Federal spending once again dominated the debate in Washington last week, as House Republicans and Senate Democrats began work on their ten-year budget plans. Contrary to claims, neither party’s budget reduces spending. While the Republican plan increases spending a little less than the Democrat plan, it would still spend $5 trillion in 2023, an almost two trillion dollar increase over this year’s budget.
Of course, these projections of future budgets are meaningless, as a current Congress cannot bind a future one. Therefore, the projected spending for next year is the only part of the budget with any significance. So is there a great gulf between the two parties’ budgets for next year? No. For fiscal year 2014, the Democrat budget proposes spending $3.7 trillion, while the “radical” Republican budget spends $3.5 trillion!
While the two parties bicker over minor differences in spending, the stock market, which many in Washington predicted would crash unless the parties reached a “grand bargain” on taxes and spending, seems unaffected by the various manufactured budget crises. Unfortunately, the market’s indifference to Washington spending games is based on the fallacy that the deficit does not matter as long as the Federal Reserve is willing to monetize the federal debt.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is certainly doing all he can to facilitate deficit spending. The Federal Reserve’s desire to monetize the federal debt is a main reason for the aggressive program of buying federal debt via the continuous quantitative easing. Under Chairman Bernanke, the Federal Reserve is pumping as much as $85 billion a month into the American economy. This out-of-control monetary policy is largely conducted behind closed doors, yet it has much more effect on the do day-to-day lives of Americans than Congress’s phony budget debates. The Federal Reserve’s polices erode the value of the dollar, causing prices to rise, which in turn diminishes people’s standard of living. This inflation tax may be the most hideous tax of all because it is both hidden and regressive.
Of course, the Federal Reserve can only keep this up for so long before doing serious damage to the economy. The Austrian school of economics teaches that the Federal Reserve is responsible for the boom-and-bust cycles that plague modern economies. The Federal Reserve’s aggressive money pumping runs the risk of creating hyperinflation — especially once banks stop hoarding their reserves and began flooding the economy with Fed-created fiat currency.
Even though the economic crisis of 2008 proved the Austrians correct, there are still too many in D.C. and on Wall Street who believe the Keynesian fallacy that government and the Federal Reserve can spend-and-inflate our way to prosperity. But, as is the case with the narcotics addict, the longer the Federal Reserve enables Congress’s habit of deficit spending, the more painful will be the withdrawal when Congress is finally forced to kick the habit.
The role of the Federal Reserve in facilitating deficit spending by the US—and even foreign governments—means it is a mistake to segregate monetary and fiscal policy. Our nation will never get its fiscal house in order until we reform monetary policy. The first step is letting the American people know the real facts about the Federal Reserve’s actions.
The debate over the federal budget and even the battle over the Federal Reserve are ultimately arguments over symptoms rather than the cause. The root of the fiscal crisis is the belief that the federal government is qualified to manage the economy, provide for the people’s needs, and spread democracy throughout the world through either by foreign aid or by force of arms. Neither party in Washington questions the welfare-warfare state.
Until Congress begins debating questions such as whether or not we really need thousands of military facilities around the world, whether or not we should shut down the Education Department and return control to local communities and parents, and whether we should allow young people to completely op-out of the entitlement programs, the so-called debates in Washington, D.C. will continue to amount to nothing but sound and fury, signifying nothing.