The Obama Hockey Stick

Last night for the first time in history U.S debt was downgraded. The Left still denies that President Obama has a lot of responsibility for this situation, instead laying blame on Republican refusal to raise taxes on the rich.

As I have written previously, it is dishonest to give voters the impression that tax increases on the rich is a solution to the deficit. In the latest projection by the Congressional Budget Office, the ten year deficit is estimated at 13 trillion dollars. By contrast, Obama’s various tax increases on the rich will only bring in 1 trillion in the same period.

The 13 trillion dollar deficit which the President helped create and long terms entitlement deficits are the main reason why S&P downgraded U.S debt, not the 1 trillion in tax increases which Republicans prevented.

As a response to the economic crises and based on ideological conviction, President Obama decided to expand federal non-defense spending more than any President in recent history. This unprecedented expansion of government can perhaps be justified by orthodox Keynesianism. But we should not allow the left to deny the magnitude of expansion itself, which they are trying to do.

Let me illustrate how much of a departure from history the Obama Presidency represents in terms of spending. I will graph non-defense federal spending as a share of GDP since 1975.

(click to enlarge)

What emerges is what I refer to as the Obama Hockey Stick, parallel to the IPCC global warming Hockey Stick. While federal Non-defense spending was quite constant previous to Obama, it has risen rapidly under his administration.

The 2008 crisis was used to justify the expansion of government. But if the expansion was merely temporary, it would not have caused the U.S debt to be downgraded. As the Presidents chief of staff said: “Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before.” Using the crises as a pretext, the plan was to expand the size and score of government permanently.

Thus according to the latest CBO long term budget outlook, and using the Whitehouse own estimate for defense spending, non-defense federal spending is projected to be 19.7% in 2016, when the recession is projected to be long over. Spending in 2016 is projected to be 4 percentage points higher than the historic average, with deficits of 6% of GDP.

Bruce Bartlett, a former libertarian Reagan advisor who in recent years converted to hard core liberalism, has described President Obama as a “moderate conservative”. Most of Bruce Bartlett’s recent writing is about promoting Social Democratic European policies as a role model for the U.S. He writes:

“an honest examination of his [Obama’s] presidency must conclude that he has in fact been moderately conservative”

Paul Krugman makes the same argument here. (Unlike Bartlett, Krugman is at least honest enough to call himself a liberal, though he doesn’t consider the President one.)

Bruce Bartlett innumerate argument ignores actual spending data. Instead his hilarious evidence for conservatism is that just like famously conservative Massachusetts Democrats and Mitt Romney, Obama-care was enacted instead of fully socializing health (not a joke, Bartlett actually writes this). Bartlett’s other equally hilarious evidence is that Obama’s advisors wanted a stimulus twice as large, i.e. 2 trillion dollars.

Taking over the U.S health care industry and the biggest fiscal stimulus in human history is the evidence for Obama being a “moderate conservative”. Bartlett incidentally also does not appear to understand that Obama did not have the votes and popular support to go much further in either case. This reminds me of an old communist joke (just a joke, don’t interpret it otherwise):

“Lenin’s widow, Krupskaya, is telling a group of young Pioneers:
-Lenin was so kind to children! One morning, he was shaving near an open window. And then a little boy walked past. And Vladimir Ilyich looked at him as he was passing by… and then the boy went away.
-So where is the kindness here, Nadezhda Konstantinovna?” one of the kids asked.
-Don’t you see!? With his razor, he could easily slit the boy’s throat! But he didn’t! That’s how kind Lenin was”

Well Bruce, perhaps in today’s’ Cuba or 1968 Paris President Obama would be considered a “moderate conservative” and you as a “libertarian”. But in America expanding government by a third and doubling the long term deficit deficits is rarely what we mean by fiscal conservatives.

Why don’t you guys on the left stop pretending to be “conservatives” and “libertarians”, and just defend the left-wing policies you are advocating and the deficits your policies are causing?

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About Tino Sanandaji 39 Articles

Tino Sanandaji is a 29 year old PhD student in Public Policy at the University of Chicago, and the Chief Economist of the free-market think tank Captus.

Visit: Super Economy

1 Comment on The Obama Hockey Stick

  1. You should model the honesty you trumpet by revealing why you chose to graph spending as a share of GDP, rather than choosing to graph spending in absolute terms. The problem, otherwise, is that if GDP contracts, the graph rises. If the government spends more to counteract a faltering GDP, then the graph’s rise will be magnified. And if the economy gets a full head of steam by 2016, but is still accelerating toward full speed, then gov’t spending as a share of GDP will remain higher than what might be ideal. It’s clear that your beef goes back to the government’s involvement in healthcare, which is what’s hidden behind your characterization of the expansionist government agenda. Healthcare was broken. It’s probably not a perfect fix, but we’ve at least established that the people, through their representatives, can tinker with the “system” to fix it.

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