Tag Archives: government spending

Life before the social welfare state

In 1779, before the advent of the welfare state or even a federal government in the US, when taxes were virtually non-existent, François de Barbé-Marbois wrote: “Begging is unknown in America. There are, in almost all towns, hostels which take in old people or those who are unable to work. As for the unemployed, there are other institutions where care is taken that they lack neither work nor food.” Barbé-Marbois, Our Revolutionary Forefathers 71

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UPDATE: Europe is paying for its past excesses: European interest payments as % of GDP.

With news out today of a weak German bond auction and troubles with the Dexia bailout, I thought it time to update my table of European interest payments as % of GDP. But first, the news:

  • Germany auctioned 6 billion euros of 10-year government bonds, but attracted just 3.889 billion euros of bids, a bid-to-cover ratio of just 0.65. Six of the last eight bond auctions have seen bids below supply. In these cases, the Bundesbank has bought the remaining debt. German yields are rising as a result. Germany’s 2-year yield is up 0.06% to 0.44% and 10-year yield is up 0.13% to 2.12%.
  • Belgian yields are soaring to new highs on reports that the bailout of Dexia was failing. Belgium’s two-year yield rose 0.69% to 4.98% and 10-year yield increased 0.40% to 5.47%. In France, also a partner to the Dexia bailout, the 2-year yield rose 0.14% to 1.86% and the 10-year yield jumped 0.15% to 3.68%.
  • No news other than the above is pushing up rates across most of Europe. Greece’s 1-year yield skyrocketed 38.6% to 306.7%. The 2-year rate jumped 4.6% to 117.9% and the 10-year year yield rose 0.18% to 29.04%. All are record highs. Over in Italy, 2-year yields rose 0.17% to 7.15% and 10-year yields increased 0.15% to 6.97%.

So now, let’s see an updated table of where Europe stands in its ability to pay the interest on its debts.

 

2-year interest rate

Debt-to-GDP

Interest payment %age of GDP

Change in Interest payment

Greece

117.88%

144.9%

170.8%

+14.4%

Portugal

14.62%

83.2%

12.2%

-3.1%

Italy

7.11%

118.1%

8.4%

-0.1%

Ireland

9.96%

64.8%

6.5%

+0.5%

Belgium

4.94%

96.6%

4.8%

+1.9%

Spain

5.82%

63.4%

3.7%

+0.8%

France

1.88%

83.5%

1.6%

+0.5%

Germany

0.45%

78.8%

0.4%

+0.1%

Great Britain

0.47%

62.6%

0.3%

———

United States

0.26%

99.7%

0.3%

———

As you can see on the above table, only Portugal had a significant decrease in interest payments going forward. In contrast, Greece, Ireland, Belgium, Spain, and France all say significant increases. Whereas previously, only four countries had interest going forward exceeding 3 percent of GDP, six nations now face that situation.

Clearly, as anybody watching the stock market decline here knows, the European debt crisis is getting worse and the European leaders have yet to find a solution. Unfortunately, with the budget mess in Washington and debt-to-GDP ratio of about 100%, higher than most of those “risky” European nations, the United States will soon be facing the same problem.

Europe is paying for its past excesses: European interest payments as % of GDP.

With interest rates rising in Europe and heavy debt-to-GDP ratios, I decided to look at how much interest each European country must pay going forward as a percentage of its economic output. I threw in the United States for fun. (Table sorted by interest payment %age of GDP.)

 

2-year interest rate

Debt-to-GDP

Interest payment %age of GDP

Greece

107.97%

144.9%

156.4%

Portugal

18.40%

83.2%

15.3%

Italy

7.20%

118.1%

8.5%

Ireland

9.16%

64.8%

5.9%

Belgium

3.00%

96.6%

2.9%

Spain

4.56%

63.4%

2.9%

France

1.33%

83.5%

1.1%

Great Britain

0.52%

62.6%

0.3%

Germany

0.35%

78.8%

0.3%

United States

0.23%

99.7%

0.2%

Now, these debt figures account only for federal government spending. Many countries, most notably the United States, also has state, provincial, and local governments with their own debts. Additionally, many of the debt-to-GDP estimates are from 2010. Thus, most of the above countries have debt-to-GDP ratios and interest expenses even worse than calculated above.

Clearly, we can see why Greece is in trouble. If it were to refinance its debt at market rates (it has been refinancing through Euro-zone subsidized loans), its interest payments would exceed its GDP by a half.

Italy is also paying for its problems. So far, Italy has received no help from any bailout fund and, as of now, will have to refinance its debt at market rates. As such, it will cost Italy 8.5% of its GDP to do so. If it had a more reasonable debt level and interest rates, say those of France, Italy would have an additional 7.4% of GDP to spend or save.

Most surprising is how everybody is ignoring Portugal. Portugal has already received bailout funds, but that won’t last forever. If Portugal were to return to normal by accessing the market, interest payments would eat up 15.3% of its GDP. That’s a lot to pay for past mistakes.

Belgium is another sleeper. It’s problems are just as bad as Spain’s, yet nobody is talking about them. Furthermore, Belgium has not been able to form a ruling coalition since elections were last held on June 13, 2010, breaking all records. Furthermore, the New Flemish Alliance party is Belgium’s largest political party with 17% of the vote. This party favors the “peaceful and gradual secession of Flanders from Belgium.” Lots of problems there, but nobody seems to be talking about it.

So far, Europe has paid for the mistakes of Greece, Portugal, and Ireland. However, Italy’s debt is 2.7 times the combined debt of those three nations that are already receiving bailout funds. That makes Italy both too big to fail and too big to bail out.

Europe is facing problems on multiple fronts: Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Belgium, and Spain, to name a few. So far, Europe has successfully staved off depression by bailing out the smaller, weaker countries. But as the problem spreads to more countries, and bigger ones at that, Europe is running out of room and options.

– Michael E. Newton is the author of the highly acclaimed The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny. His newest book, Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution, was released by Eleftheria Publishing in July.

The status quo results in socialism

Is America heading toward socialism? Is President Obama taking us there? Will the tea party save us?

I think the first question that must be asked is: What will happen if American does nothing? Forget about all the proposals for new government spending. Forget about tax policy for a second. What will happen if America simply maintains the status quo, without growing or reducing the size of government?

According to the Congressional Budget Office’s 2011 Long-Term Budget Outlook, the federal government will consume 34.1 to 75.9 percent of GDP in 2085. The lower number is called “The Extended-Baseline Scenario” while the higher number is “The Alternative Fiscal Scenario,” which includes the extension of the tax cuts set to expire, rising debt levels, and “spiraling interest payments.”

Add in current state and local spending, subtracting out governmental transfers, (that assumes state and local government do not grow, as they have done for the last 100 years) government at all levels will consume 49.7  to 91.5 percent of GDP in 2085.

Even with the CBO’s optimistic forecast, government will account for half of all economic activity. Currently, government accounts for about 40.9 percent of our economy. But the pessimistic outlook from the CBO has the government controlling nearly all of the economy. We will be fully socialist!

Unfortunately, I lean toward the more pessimistic outlook. And I’m not alone. The CBO writes:

Many budget analysts believe that the alternative fiscal scenario presents a more realistic picture of the nation’s underlying fiscal policies than the extended-baseline scenario does. The explosive path of federal debt under the alternative fiscal scenario underscores the need for large and rapid policy changes to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal course.

Looking at the accompanying spreadsheet, the CBO has unemployment falling to an average of 8.4% next year, then falling to 7.6% in 2013, 6.8% in 2014, 5.9% in 2015, 5.3% in 2016, 5.2% in 2019, 5.1% in 2026, and 5.0% in 2030 where it stays forever. Oh really? They really expect unemployment to average 5.0% from 2016 to 2085? Has the United States or any country ever had sustained low unemployment uninterrupted by recession for 70 consecutive years? I don’t think so!

Certainly, the Baseline Scenario is too optimistic. This means that even with no new government programs, government will account for well over half of all economic activity by 2085. In this Alternative Scenario, the CBO estimates that government at all level would consume nearly all of economic output.

Socialism is in our future if we do not change. Doing nothing–merely blocking new government programs–is not enough. We must undo the damage that has already been done and fix the government programs that are already eating up a growing percentage of our national production.

– Michael E. Newton is the author of the highly acclaimed The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny. His newest book, Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution, was released by Eleftheria Publishing in July.

Do we have a problem with our federal government? Or with government in general?

We often complain about the excessive spending of our federal government, and for good reason. We even argue for “states’ rights” as a way to restrain the federal government. But are the states any better than the federal government?

This first chart clearly show that the federal government spends, on average, as a percentage of GDP, more than our state and local government. But notice that state and local government spending caught up to the federal government back in 2001 (after the fiscal responsibility of the 1990s).

Obviously, the chart above has two large spikes representing World War I and World War II. What would it look like if we excluded volatile defense spending?

Doing this, it looks like the state and local government spend more money than the federal government. More important, states and local government has grown from about 15 percent of GDP in 1980 to 22 percent today. The federal government has “only” grown from 15 percent to 19 percent.

Looking at these chart, I have no confidence that the states will act with more restraint than the federal government. If our governments are incapable of fixing the problem, that only leaves you and me. We have to replace the people running and governments. We have to teach them and ourselves the value of small governments designed to protect our rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Everything else government does is an infringement of our rights and they should leave us alone.

 

Taxes paid keeps rising, despite the media’s claims to the opposite

Headline: “Tax bills in 2009 at lowest level since 1950

The reality according to the very same article:

“Federal, state and local income taxes consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.”

Notice that this is only talking about income taxes. As if income taxes are the only means of collecting taxes. In fact, look at what has been happening in Arizona. The legislature has been dropping income tax rates here, but at the same time they and the people through ballot initiatives have been raising the sales tax rate. Looking at only income taxes is looking at about a third of the total.

I decided to collect the data from http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/ and http://www.usgovernmentrevenue.com and create some simple charts.

Yes, taxes paid have declined recently and hit their lowest level as a percentage of GDP since 1959 (not 1950). However, as you can see, tax revenue is 2010 was back up to the same level as 1971 and 2011’s are expected to be the same as 1973’s. In fact, 2011’s tax revenue is expected to be just a point less than that of 2003’s. Big deal! Yet, look at that outstanding increase in taxes between 1910 and 2000.

But that only tells part of the story. As government’s share of GDP grows, the shrinking private sector has to pay for all that new government. So let’s look at taxes as a percentage of the private economy:

The decline in taxes is now much less pronounced. Taxes paid as a percentage of the private economy hovers around 50%. Looking at taxes against the private is much better because it is the private economy tax actually produces. Let’s look at it another way. If taxes were 60% of GDP but 100% of GDP, everybody in the private economy would stop working and government would get no revenue and would be forced to close down. So the private economy is the determining factor in tax revenues, not the total economy.

So the average person working in the private sector as an employer or employees pays, on average, a tax rate of 50%. This includes income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, vehicle registration taxes, social security and Medicare taxes, corporate taxes, capital gains taxes, etc. FIFTY PERCENT!

And people have the nerve to complain that tax rates and tax revenues are falling.

Taxes need to fall much further. A decline to the 100-year average of 25% of GDP and 36% of private sector GDP would be a good start. In other words, to return to the average would mean a tax cut of $750 billion to $1300 billion. But with huge deficits, spending would have to decline by two to three trillion. But given the immense growth in government over the last 100 years, spending cuts like that would simply return us to the 100-year average.

Remember, USA today compared 2009 income tax revenue to the 50-year average. I am simply following their lead, but looking at all taxes and looking at a 100-year average.

Paul Ryan’s plan doesn’t go far enough

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Paul Ryan explains his budget proposal and includes this great chart:

Part of Ryan’s plan is to reduce government spending to the “long-term average” of about 19-20 percent of GDP. By what twisted logic does it make sense to leave government spending at 19-20 percent of GDP? Even Bill Clinton spent less than that.

Spending at these “average” levels is what got us into this mess. We should return to the level of federal government spending that existed prior to the progressive takeover of government, when the federal government spent about 2 to 4 percent of GDP during peacetime, more during depressions and wars. Maybe 2 to 4 percent is too low in these “modern” times. Personally, I think the federal government should spend about 5 percent of GDP. Three percent of which would be for defense and two percent for all other functions of the federal government, which are not that many according to the Constitution.