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« Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 260 -- Listening In On Terrorists. | WILLisms.com | Wednesday Caption Contest: Part 42. »

Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 261 -- Out-Of-Control Government Spending.

The Budget-

The government spends way too much of our tax dollars. Even some elected Republicans have forgotten why the GOP is the dominant party, and conservativism is the dominant ideology in the United States.

There's a problem out there somewhere? Throw some money at it.
Some interest group is threatening to say you hate the poor? Throw money at it.


And so on.

And while it's fashionable to lump all elected Republicans and Democrats together, or even claim that Republicans are bigger spenders than even Democrats, or that Clinton was better on spending than Bush is, let's have a quick reality check.

First, the federal government had a deficit of 318 billion dollars last year. That's a lot. But it's down from 413 billion dollars the year before that, and because of the power of economic growth, the most recent deficit number is only 2.6% of GDP. That's quite low, historically.

Indeed, public debt has actually decreased relative to the size of our economy over the past decade:

...the public-debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 38%, which is actually below the level at any point in the 1990s.

That's all great news for those who believe large federal budget deficits, financed by public debt, could derail our economy. When people say we have "record" deficits or "record" debt, that's only true if we're also willing to say we have a "record" prosperity, "record" employment, and a variety of other "record" positive indicators.

The fact remains, however: spending is way up in recent years.

But, contrary to all the attention paid to the nuisance of "pork" by uberbloggers such as Instapundit, pork barrel spending is a drop in the bucket relative to the demographic tsunami of entitlement spending.

For example, this looks terrible:


And it is terrible. But it's chump change compared to the way our pay-as-we-go entitlement programs are growing. Also, while some of that 27 billion is certainly unequivocally identifiable as pork, most of those dollars go toward programs that are at least vaguely justifiable in 8-second media soundbites. A member of Congress may go on television and leave the millions of viewers nodding in agreement, thinking, "oh, you mean they are building a facility to rehabilitate meth users. Oh, okay, that's not pork. I had no idea they were classifying my favorite local program as pork. We need that program."

That's what we're up against. It's a difficult battle, for relative chump change. Is gnashing and complaining about pork really the most efficient use of our anti-spending resources? That 27 billion in pork is nothing compared to entitlement spending growth:


Similar pattern of growth. Not at all similar numbers.

And it's not going to get better any time soon, even if we do take care of ALL the pork barrel spending in the entire budget:

Entitlement spending is projected to nearly double over the next decade. Medicare is expanding by 9% annually, Medicaid by 8% annually, and Social Security by 6% annually.

The total cost of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is projected to leap from 8.4% of GDP in 2005 to 18.9% of GDP by 2050.

That's not chump change.

We certainly shouldn't encourage or condone pork, or earmarking, or any other type of wasteful spending. But let's please, please, please keep it in context.

Since 2001, annual pork spending has gone up by several billion dollars.
Since 2001, annual Social Security spending has gone up by $121,782,000,000.
Since 2001, annual Medicare spending has gone up by $125,603,000,000.
Since 2001, annual Medicaid spending has gone up by $62,960,000,000.

Social Security, currently, accounts for the largest government program expenditure. Medicare is third place. Wedged between, in second place, is National Defense spending. Pork spending, meanwhile, is a lone mosquito on underbelly of the mighty wildebeest. Worth removing, sure, but not debilitating.

But the ever-burgeoning rhino saddled up on the wildebeest's back (that's entitlement spending for the metaphorically challenged) might be a bigger deal.



Previous Trivia Tidbit: Checking In On Terrorist Conversations.

Posted by Will Franklin · 7 February 2006 07:48 PM


Hey Will... this is exactly the kind of graph that makes your site such a great resource; Yes I think that there is a lot of Pork in the budget, but man, look at those numbers, and look at that graph!

And By the Way, I'd actually love to see a real comparison SHOWING the Record Deficits as well as the Record Employment and the Record Income etc... useful numbers to know as the debate goes on.

and on.

and on.

Until we impress upon our 'leaders' what these numbers mean, and what we need to do about them. Tnanks again for all you do!

Mr. Michael

Posted by: Mr. Michael at February 8, 2006 06:30 AM

Fantastic revelation.

Posted by: laxpat at February 8, 2006 09:59 AM

I agree. A sobering depiction. I am becoming cynical enough to feel that the collapse of the entitlement system will be only way the problem gets "solved".

Posted by: DaveD at February 8, 2006 11:25 AM

I think you may underestimate the cost of entitlements in the current budget.

The Treasury says that in addition to the cash spent on entitlements there is a deficit of an additional more than $3 trillion (with a "t") annually, when the budget is computed using accrual basis accounting as the private sector uses. (Data and link to Treasury report).

Outgoing CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin says that nothing else in the budget matters, just entitlements...

"I think this is self-evident," says Mr. Holtz-Eakin, chuckling. "... I wake up every morning saying it doesn't matter what happens in the next five years, and people say I am really weird."

... the costs of the the Bush tax cuts, the war in Iraq, Katrina, pension bailouts -- they all are so tiny by comparison as to count for nought.

But, hey, it's good to find someone else in blogland with a similar view of what really counts.

Posted by: Jim Glass at February 9, 2006 12:22 PM