The Weekly Standard refers to Obama as the "spender-in-chief
." Why? I don't know why everyone (even alleged Democrats) seems to be under the impression that government spending has skyrocketed during the Obama years. Quite the opposite has happened.
Meanwhile, the actual numbers show that over the past three years we’ve been living through an era of unprecedented government downsizing. Government employment is down sharply; so is total government spending (including state and local governments) adjusted for inflation, which has fallen almost 3 percent since 2010 and around 5 percent per capita.
And when I say unprecedented, I mean just that. We haven’t seen anything like the recent government cutbacks since the 1950s, and probably since the demobilization that followed World War II.
What has been cut? It’s a complex picture, but the most obvious cuts have been in education, infrastructure, research, and conservation.
Why do we remain mired in a sluggish economy? Because the libertarian stranglehold on our political imagination has forbidden us from considering any increases in government spending -- even though such spending is what got us out of previous ruts.
In another post
, Krugman runs the chart I have reproduced here. The chart tracks the rate of increase.
One of the the points that stands out is that the troughs tend to occur during Democratic presidencies while the highs coincide with Republican presidencies. For the big exception, you have to go all the way back to the LBJ years. There was also a modest dip as the Reagan administration segued into the Bush I administration. The Bush II years were marked not just by war but also -- as everyone now tends to forget -- by massive porkage.
In bad times, you need increased government spending to take up the slack. That's not Marxism, that's the big lesson from American economic history during the past hundred years. And frankly, any kind of spending -- even a military binge, which was (until recently) acceptable to Republicans -- might well do the trick.
And yet, as Kevin Drum argued a day or so ago, libertarian ideology has won the austerity battle
Two years ago, Ryan's budget was basically at the outer limit of mainstream conservative wish lists. Today it looks tame.
Are the Republicans crowing over their victory? No. They don't even perceive it as victory.
The recent budget agreement has led to civil war within the the Republican party, with Glenn Beck
-- that doyen of the daffy, that ruby of the rubes, that philosopher of the phanatical -- attacking John Boehner and Mitch McConnell while praising "heroes" Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. I'm a little disappointed that Beck didn't find some way to work Woodrow Wilson and the Illuminati into his remarks.
Now, everyone speaks of war
between the comparatively-rational conservatives -- I guess that means Boehner and his bunch -- and the whackadoodle wing of the Republican party. How will this internal battle play out in the elections of 2014? In times past, I would have predicted that the Republicans will get it together in time just in time to cement their hold on the House and possibly retake the Senate. But the "crazy factor" makes prophesy dangerous.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Democrats seemed likely to achieve their great goal of losing next year's elections. But the Republicans appear to want defeat even more.