The Case for Austerity
by Andrew P. Napolitano
Do you remember this summer's debt debate debacle? It ended with the supercommittee, which ended in failure, which resulted in no cuts in government spending. Do you remember the summer before that, when tea party protesters came out in full force against Obamacare and members of Congress who were contemplating supporting it? Do you remember when the tea party movement made the Republicans the majority in the House and replaced a few prominent liberal Republicans in the Senate with small-government conservatives?
Where was all the raucous protest when those who were elected to Congress in 2010 on the promise of reining in spending so spectacularly and clearly failed to do it?
It seems everybody wants something for nothing and everybody wants something from the government. Frankly, this is why Ron Paul has never been the flavor of the week. He is the only serious presidential candidate who is actually advocating real austerity, real spending cuts, a real shrinking of government.
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney don't want to shrink government. They love government. They just want to manage it better. The problem with that approach is that government by its very design is always mismanaged. The centralization of decision-making amplifies the effects of poor decisions while disincentivizing prudent ones.
Unlike an individual or a well-run corporation, government is not motivated by how efficient it can be, but rather by how lucrative it can be for those associated with it, and how those who run the government can stay in power. Someone who was philosophically opposed to government domination of the housing market wouldn't perpetuate it by taking one red penny of taxpayer money from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, like the former Speaker did, whether he calls himself a historian or a lobbyist. Someone philosophically opposed to government domination of the health care market would never offer up government as the solution to the problem of the uninsured, like the former governor of Massachusetts did, since the problem of the uninsured was created by government's involvement in the health care market in the first place.
The federal government does not need an efficient manager. That's a pipe dream based on the noble but flawed premise that government can be made to operate as a business. It cannot. Business is subject to the forces of free choice, supply and demand, and competition. Can you imagine government subjecting itself to the forces of competition? Can you imagine government permitting us to ignore it?
The government's biggest sacred cow is the Pentagon. The mere thought of reductions in the growth of defense spending has the Washington careerists screaming bloody murder. Yet military expert after military expert, not connected to the Pentagon and not employed in the defense industry, has told us that austerity will force the government to do what Congress lacks the political courage to do. Stated differently, we will keep spending on bases we don't need, on planes that sit unused in hangars and on military hardware stored all over the world, and not for any national security interest, but simply because a congressman earmarked it – unless we get serious about our future.
A dollar of military spending is not a dollar of military strength, but it is a dollar into the coffers of those who contribute to congressional campaigns. Which is the greater threat to our national security, an impoverished gaggle of Third World revolutionaries 10,000 miles away, or our national debt? The answer is obvious.
Government is not a jobs program, and government is not your caretaker. Government is an arrangement made by free individuals to protect their rights and their property. It doesn't take $3.6 trillion a year to do that effectively in America today. I doubt it takes a trillion. We must swallow the bitter pill of austerity now, on our own terms, while we are still the undisputed leader of the free world and while we still have a Constitution, so that we can restore our prosperity in a way consistent with personal liberty.
It is a far better option than waiting for the bitter pill of austerity to be forced upon us when our country has become a shell of the proud and prosperous free nation it once was. Our cousins in Europe are learning that the hard way, even as we marvel at their sudden but inexorable demise.