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Tomorrow’s citizens will pay for today’s spending

Ben Linskey | Sunday, February 1, 2009

Last November, voters elected Barack Obama as president, decisively repudiating the failed policies of the Bush administration and ushering in an era of change and reform. Or at least that’s what they thought they were doing. Less than a month into Obama’s presidency, it’s becoming alarmingly clear that many of the most misguided policies of the Bush years are here to stay. Thousands of Americans, suffering the effects of a deepening recession, are hopeful that the new administration will adopt a new course and lead our nation out of the present economic crisis. President Obama, however, seems determined to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor.On Feb. 13 of last year, George W. Bush signed the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, intended to ward off a looming recession; predictably, the bill accomplished little more than tacking $152 billion onto the federal deficit. Less than a year later, faced with a worsening economic outlook, President Obama has somehow convinced himself and his political allies that the most prudent course of action is to imitate the Bush administration’s policies on a grossly magnified scale, this time lobbing over $800 billion at the problem. The most immediate difficulty with this “stimulus” plan is that it simply won’t work. In the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt oversaw the creation of thousands of new agencies and government jobs, but no amount of federal prodigality could lift the United States out of the Great Depression. In a recent analysis of Depression-era economic programs posted on the Cato Institute website, Regulation magazine editor Thomas Firey concluded that “the New Deal did little as an economic stimulus.” There is no reason to believe that the Obama administration’s “new New Deal” will be any more effective. It is high time we recognize the sheer futility of government attempts to manipulate the economy. The greatest danger in this latest stimulus program, though, lies not in its ineffectiveness, but in the costs it will impose on future generations.The national debt presently stands at over $10.5 trillion – over $30,000 per U.S. citizen. The Bush and Obama stimulus bills, combined with the recent wave of bailouts for failing, inefficient corporations, bear a combined price tag well in excess of $1 trillion . These numbers are almost too large to fully comprehend, but the federal debt is not an abstract tally; it is a series of enormous financial obligations to a variety of foreign governments and private citizens, all of whom collect interest on their investments each year. Last year alone, the federal government paid out a whopping $412 billion to its creditors. The Congressional Budget Office recently calculated that the stimulus package heralded by the Obama administration will entail an additional $347 billion in interest payments over the next decade.Deficit spending imposes a steadily growing burden on taxpayers. The government can account for its debt in only two ways. It can raise taxes, preying on the productivity of U.S. citizens, or it can simply print more money, leading to the hidden, insidious phenomenon of inflation. The latter option is more prevalent, as the disastrous consequences of inflation are not immediately apparent. (Incidentally, proponents of social justice who support government spending programs would do well to remember that the costs of inflation are distributed unevenly and often do the most harm to the poor.) Politicians seize on the opportunity to impose long-term costs in return for the illusion of short-term benefits.The ultimate, and most pernicious, consequences of reckless spending are seldom discussed. It is future generations, not current taxpayers, who will bear the brunt of the federal debt, and politicians in Washington have no qualms about burdening U.S. citizens not yet born with trillions of dollars of obligations in return for immediate political gain. The great tragedy of the recent wave of stimulus bills and federal bailouts is that those who will be most affected by these policies do not even get a vote. The men and women who will inherit the national debt didn’t elect George Bush, Barack Obama or any member of the U.S. Congress. The federal government’s longstanding policy of burdening the unborn with debt is little more than outright theft, closer to mob rule than democracy.Sadly, the very nature of government and electoral politics encourages politicians to exploit the powerless for the sake of enriching present majorities. The good news is that there is still time for our nation to escape from the endless spiral of spending, bailouts and debt. But to do so, Americans must reject the ineffective and immoral policies offered by Democrats and Republicans in Washington. Voters comprise the greatest – perhaps the only – check on such abuses of federal power. George W. Bush, Barack Obama and their colleagues in Congress have demonstrated that neither the left nor the right can be trusted to administer the powers of government responsibly. Future generations will hold us accountable for the policies we endorse today. It’s time for Americans to reject unrestrained federal spending and acknowledge the failure of the major parties to produce responsible, moral governance.

Ben Linskey, a sophomore majoring in political science and philosophy, is co-president of the College Libertarians. He can be contacted at [email protected] views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.