Writing in the Washington Times, Richard Rahn — Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and Chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth — puts the current state of federal spending in rather horrid relief:
The federal government is spending about 24 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Most of it goes for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs. The “discretionary” portion of the budget equals about 9 percent of GDP, with about half going for defense. Until 1930, the federal government normally spent less than 4 percent of GDP, except for the periods during World War I and the Civil War. The Constitution gives the federal government very few tasks for which it is required to spend money — the big item being the “common defense.” Again, up until 1930, the courts forced the federal government to live largely within the confines of the Constitution. Deducting defense spending from the federal budgets before 1930 shows that the federal government lived perfectly well on 2 percent to 3 percent of GDP for the first 140 years of the republic.
What all of this means is that approximately three-quarters of all federal government spending is not required by — and often is contrary to — the Constitution.
Conventional wisdom in Washington increasingly holds that those who wish to see the federal government pare back its expenditures rather than increase the tax burden on the American people are delusional, if not antediluvian. Yet for the majority of American history, the federal government was only a fraction of what it is today — and the Republic did quite well for itself.
Are we really to believe today that spending cuts that would still leave the federal government’s share of GDP several multiples higher than it was less than a century ago mark some civilizational rot? Because by all indicators (Europe comes to mind), the failure to prune seems to be the more perilous course.