The sequester deadline came and, lo and behold, the United States did not turn into a pumpkin or suffer an economic collapse. That isn’t surprising to those who know history and economics: Reductions in federal spending (real reductions, that is, not just smaller-than-planned increases such as we debate today) unleashed powerful economic growth in the 1920s and then again in the late 1940s. Both of those periods featured reductions in federal spending that were far more radical than anything even being proposed today. The booms that followed those shrinkages of government illustrate the basic principle, confirmed time after time both here and abroad, that economic growth is far more robust when government gets out of the way than when it intervenes in and interferes with the private sector.
Still, the choices that President Obama has made, in terms of where to cut spending and where to maintain or increase it, raise many concerns. His response to his failure to convince Republicans to commit political suicide and betray their constituents by raising taxes to avert the sequester has been spiteful and immature—a veritable public policy tantrum.
Obama’s decision to use the sequester as a pretext to suspend tours of the White House has received, quite rightly, considerable attention. Slamming the door of the White House in the face of children is, taken alone, churlish. Combine that, though, with the president’s decision, shortly before the sequester deadline, to spend a million taxpayer dollars so that he could have a private golf outing with Tiger Woods, and we have something much worse. Such behavior manifests contempt for the people of this country—a “let them eat cake” haughtiness.
Another perplexing spending priority has come to light in the area of defense spending. According to a report out of George Washington University, Team Obama is debating abandoning and torching 750,000 pieces of military hardware (trucks, aircraft, armored vehicles, etc.) in Afghanistan—equipment worth $36 billion—rather than spend an estimated $5.7 billion to retrieve it. Maybe I’m missing something, but wouldn’t most governments jump at the opportunity to have an extra $36 billion of assets at their disposal for the relatively bargain price of $5.7 billion?
Perhaps Obama is thinking in terms of Bastiat’s “broken window” theory: That destruction of property is actually an economic blessing, because replacing what was lost stimulates the economy by creating work for those who supply the replacement goods. Of course, the theory is fallacious, and destruction does not create prosperity. In the present context, if the equipment in Afghanistan were destroyed and then replaced at a cost of $36 billion, our military would regain what it already had, but if the equipment were retrieved, then the military would have a net $30.3 billion with which to have more ships, aircraft, etc., in addition to the existing hardware. Don’t be surprised, though, if Obama adopts a “broken window” argument for jettisoning the equipment in Afghanistan, because that would help him achieve his goal of weakening our military capabilities while placating the military-industrial complex by spending billions to manufacture replacement equipment.
Not spending $5.7 billion to supply your military personnel with $36 billion of equipment reeks of managerial incompetence. It is a false frugality, but I doubt that frugality would be Obama’s motive, for this is a man who has had no compunctions about running trillion-dollar deficits. To a president who insists we don’t have a spending problem, what’s another $5.7 billion? When one considers that, at the very time Team Obama seems to think we can’t afford to invest $5.7 billion to save our military $30 billion, the administration sees an urgent need to send a quarter of a billion dollars to the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. It appears that there is a more ominous explanation of Obama’s odd spending priorities than mere incompetence.
Equally disturbing are Obama’s spending priorities in the Department of Homeland Security. Instead of ordering DHS to engage in some modest belt-tightening in light of today’s post-sequester reality, DHS is acquiring a massive inventory of ammunition (1.6 billion rounds—yes, that’s “billion” with a “b”), 7,000 assault weapons, and over 2,000 Mine Resistant Armored Protection vehicles. This is the same Department of Homeland Security that cited sequester-related budget cuts as the reason for releasing approximately 1000 illegal aliens per week from the jails where they had been detained pending deportation. The juxtaposition of these spending decisions renders it difficult to believe that the DHS’s main concern is the safety of the American people.
So, what are we to make of Barack Obama’s spending priorities? He spends fortunes on himself and his family (one recent report said Obama’s travels and activities cost the taxpayers a record $1.4 billion during his first term) while depriving kids of White House tours. He questions whether we can afford to retrieve valuable military hardware, but he is sure we can afford to subsidize the Muslim brotherhood regime in Egypt. He says the DHS can’t afford to keep deportable aliens in custody, yet the DHS has plenty of funds to arm its personnel to the hilt. These priorities strike me as more than weird; they seem sinister. The first bespeaks arrogance; the second, a dereliction of duty, if not an outright anti-American bias; the third exhibits a contempt, if not a more hostile attitude, toward the American people. Our president seems not to respect us or like us. Or am I just imagining it?