Retirement and Social Security Reform
Stupidity and the State
The Wall Street Journal
June 7, 2008
By Ernest S. Christian and Gary A. Robbins
Last August, the government lost track of six nuclear
warheads that ended up in cruise missiles affixed to the wings
of B-52 bombers flying over American cities. The Federal Emergency
Management Agency recently spent $2.7 billion to purchase
145,000 formaldehyde-soaked house trailers. They were for
use by people who'd lost their homes when levees designed
by the Army Corps of Engineers broke and flooded New Orleans.
The FBI is currently forcing its most skilled and experienced
antiterrorism field supervisors to accept "promotions"
to paper-shuffling jobs in Washington.
But the millions of inanities that occur daily throughout
the government's world-wide empire are mere trifles compared
to its big-ticket failures.
What kind of government forces people to make gasoline out
of food, artificially boosts the price of corn to $6 a bushel,
guarantees that inflated price as the "base" for
higher federal subsidies to corn farmers in the future, and
then tries to hide its own depredations by excluding high
food prices from its measure of "core" inflation?
Washington never learns from its mistakes. In "The Worst
Hard Time," Timothy Egan notes how federal price supports
encouraged farmers in World War I to plow up millions of acres
of dry grasslands and plant wheat. When the price of wheat
crashed after the war, the denuded land lay fallow; then it
blew away during the droughts of the 1930s, turning a big
chunk of America into a Dust Bowl.
On top of everything else, Washington tries to cover up the
cost of its failures and incompetence by officially misstating
the government's financial results. For instance, the government
says that the tax burden will be $2.6 trillion in 2008. But
counting the "deadweight" loss from damage done
by taxes to the private economy, the real tax burden is twice
that - roughly $5.2 trillion, according to various estimates,
including ones published by the National Bureau of Economic
Research and the Congressional Budget Office. On the spending
side, a study by the Office of Management and Budget showed
that government programs on average fall 39% short of meeting
their goals. Thus, in 2008, government will spend $2.7 trillion
to provide $1.65 trillion of benefit.
A real tax burden of $5.2 trillion to pay for a $1.65 trillion
benefit seems a bit excessive, even by Washington standards.
Perhaps one of the presidential candidates should do the voters
the courtesy of at least telling them the truth, and asking
them if they really want quite so much government at such
a high price. Then again, maybe the voters already sense the
truth, and perhaps that is why they are so furious.
Mr. Christian, an attorney, was a deputy assistant secretary
of the Treasury in the Ford administration. Mr. Robbins, an
economist, served at the Treasury Department in the Reagan
administration. They are writing a book about the abuse of