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Friedman Day shows government just keeps growing
Scripps Howard News Service


May 19, 2008

Today, Americans finally will start working for themselves rather than for their government masters. This milestone arrives two days later than in 2007, clearly proving that the era of big government is back with a vengeance. May 19 is Friedman Day, when the Great Barrington, Massachusetts-based American Institute for Economic Research calculates that citizens finally will have toiled long enough to fund local, state, and federal spending.

This is not the Tax Foundation's Tax Freedom Day, when Americans' aggregate income collectively finances all municipal, state, and national taxes. Tax Freedom Day fell on April 23, three days earlier than in 2007.

"Tax Freedom Day shows that Americans are working fewer days to pay their taxes now than they did in 2000," AIER's Kerry Lynch wrote last April 15. Tax Freedom Day peaked on May 3, 2000, near the end of President Bill Clinton's administration but before President George W. Bush signed multiple tax cuts.

Lynch added: "Friedman Day shows that it is not because the government is spending less, but because it is borrowing more, in the name of tomorrow's taxpayers."

The late, great Nobel-laureate economist Milton Friedman would be pleased to see Americans devoting less wealth to tax payments. However, the man for whom Friedman Day is named would be saddened, but probably not surprised, to see Americans dedicating more blood, sweat, and tears to finance government spending.

"I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it's possible," Friedman told writer John Hawkins in September 2003. "I believe the big problem is not taxes," Friedman continued. "The big problem is spending. The question is, 'How do you hold down government spending?' Government spending now amounts to close to 40 percent of national income, not counting indirect spending through regulation and the like. If you include that, you get up to roughly half. The real danger we face is that number will creep up and up and up. The only effective way I think to hold it down, is to hold down the amount of income the government has. The way to do that is to cut taxes."

Up and up and up perfectly describes the path of federal spending, which constantly rises, as if gravity were reversed. In good times, Washington politicians spend the revenues that economic growth generates. In bad times, bailouts and handouts abound. Entitlements flow, no matter what. Between fiscal years 2001 and 2009, the federal budget has soared 66.8 percent, from $1.86 trillion to $3.1 trillion. These 8.35 percent average annual spending increases have cascaded from a Republican presidency and a mainly GOP Congress.

Today's Democratic House of Representatives continues this fiasco. It approved a $288 billion farm bill Wednesday, by a vote of 318-106. Among other damage, this legislative monster gives $3.8 billion in disaster assistance to those who already have received $5.2 billion in direct payments for their "historical planting average," even if they have stopped farming. While typical GIs in Iraq and Afghanistan (unmarried E-4s with four years' service) dodge and, too often, catch bullets for just $41,591.44 annually, couples with yearly incomes up to $1.95 million still will receive agricultural subsidies. Democrats consider these folks rich enough to slam with tax hikes, yet poor enough to soothe with farm welfare. Which is it?

Meanwhile, dreadful sugar supports expand, calamitous ethanol assistance survives, and those who cultivate lentils, chickpeas, salmon, and even racehorses join the dole. Want a new tractor? Uncle Sam will help buy you one.

Republicans are supposed to squelch such rubbish. And yet 100 House Republicans approved it. GOP voters, already disgusted by Republican profligacy, will find this betrayal of their party's core principles enervating. Democratic voters will back their party's genetic big spenders, rather than the GOP's hypocritical posers. In an effort to "save" farmers who never had it so good, congressional Republicans have put themselves in mortal danger on Election Day.

Until then, Americans should consider a question as relevant now as when Milton Friedman asked it in 1962's "Capitalism and Freedom:" "How do we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect?"


Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.
E-mail him at deroy.Murdock(at)
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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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