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June 2012 - Volume 17, Number 2


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Yearning for Normalcy

by John Hendrickson

William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review, famously stated that the magazine “stands athwart history, yelling stop,” in regard to the advancement of modern liberalism and progressivism in both domestic and foreign policies, which was symbolized by the dominance of New Deal liberalism in post-war society.[1] Today, the need to “stand athwart history, yelling stop,” may be even more vital in regard to the current policy problems confronting the nation. The United States is at a critical crossroads and it is crucial that the nation return back to traditional constitutional principles in facing the challenges ahead. As Patrick J. Buchanan wrote in Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?


We have entered an era of austerity and retrenchment unlike any this generation has ever known. But not only is it in the realm of economics and politics that America appears in a downward spiral. Socially, culturally, morally, America has taken on the aspect of a decadent society and a declining nation.[2]


From the economy to the cultural war a significant philosophical divide exists between conservatives and liberals over the direction and future of the nation. The economy represents one of many urgent issues facing the nation. The weak recovery from the “Great Recession” continues, while unemployment remains high and record numbers of Americans are relying on some form of government assistance. In addition, the policy uncertainty continues to cast a dark shadow over the economy. The official unemployment rate, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, currently stands at 8.1 percent, but as a recent editorial by Investor’s Business Daily reports, the actual unemployment rate is much higher at 11 percent.[3] As The Washington Times argued:


The last time the employment figures looked this grim was more than 30 years ago when the nation was heading into a recession. Had the April dropouts been included in the official number, the unemployment rate would have risen instead of declined. If the official jobless figure were calculated based on the June 2009 employment participation rate, when the recovery officially began, unemployment would be more accurately pegged at 11 percent today.[4]


In addition to the unemployment problem the nation faces a significant fiscal crisis which centers on our national debt, which is $16 trillion and growing. Federal spending continues to grow with the government spending $3.8 trillion this year plus running trillion-dollar deficits over the past few years. The government is spending about 25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and as Patrick Buchanan noted, “the national debt is surging to 100 percent of GDP, portending an eventual run on the dollar, a default, or Weimar-like inflation.”[5]


As Political Scientist John J. DiIulio, Jr., recently wrote in National Affairs:


Obviously, the past few years have involved some extraordinary spending measures at the federal level. In February 2008, the cost of the first recession related stimulus bill came in at $124 billion over ten years. In October 2008, the tab for the Troubled Asset Relief Program came in at $700 billion. In February 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act authorized $787 billion in spending over 11 years. All the while, GDP was barely growing. Thus by the end of 2010, the federal spending as a percentage of GDP had reached a post-war peak of more than 25 percent.[6]


The fiscal situation is especially made worse by the increasing cost of the entitlement programs of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These entitlement programs already consume a large portion of mandatory spending in the federal budget. As The Heritage Foundation explains:


Spending on the three largest entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — will cause federal spending to grow from the historical average of 20 percent of the economy to nearly 35 percent by 2035. Spending on Social Security would increase from 4.8 percent of GDP in 2010 to 6.2 percent in 2035. Projections for Medicare and Medicaid spending nearly double in that time period, from 3.6 percent of GDP in 2010 to 7 percent by 2035 for Medicare and from 1.9 percent of GDP in 2010 to 3.9 percent in 2035 for Medicaid.[7]


Michael Tanner, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, noted that “Social Security faces unfunded liabilities of more than $15.8 trillion,” while Medicare faces a “budget shortfall of between $50 and $100 trillion, depending on which accounting measure is used.”[8] Entitlement spending along with the massive increase in federal spending is at the heart of this fiscal crisis.


The issue of high unemployment is directly tied to the national debt crisis. In addition, the increase in federal regulatory power and the future direction of health-care policy as related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is also placing an albatross on the economy. To make the issue worse, the nation is rapidly approaching the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling limit and “the nation faces an unprecedented tidal wave of tax hikes on January 1, 2013.”[9] Unless prevented by Congress, the nation will see an estimated $500 billion across-the-board tax increase, which would cripple the economy and lead to economic disaster.[10]


These economic problems will not be easy to solve, and both President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans have very different solutions. Nevertheless, policymakers must address these issues now or else face a significant crisis that is already leading Europe to the brink of collapse. Cutting government spending will not be an easy process. As John J. DiIulio, Jr. wrote:


The fact is that most Americans, not to mention their elected leaders, at every level of government, are unwilling, except in the abstract, to entertain the idea of such cuts. We are nowhere near prepared to prescribe, much less to vote for and live with, the fiscal and programmatic equivalent of gastric-bypass surgery for big government. One key reason why we are unwilling to seriously reduce the size of our government is that its scope and reach are even bigger than the daunting spending figures suggest.[11]


The New Deal influence is still heavy in the United States, just as the continual demand for the social welfare state in Europe has led to a rise of socialism in response to the untried policies of austerity. The current fiscal crisis demands that not only spending cuts, but entitlement programs be reformed.


A number of solid policy reforms are currently being offered from policymakers such as Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), whose “Path to Prosperity” plan is probably the most famous Congressional budget proposal, while Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA), Rand Paul (R-KY), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Mike Lee (R-UT), whose proposal modeled The Heritage Foundation’s plan “Saving the American Dream,” all offer solid fiscal solutions to solve the fiscal crisis and create economic growth.[12]


Americans are yearning, to borrow a phrase from President Warren G. Harding, for a return to normalcy. Returning to normalcy will take a policy approach which centers on the restoration of constitutional limited government. Republicans in Congress, along with bipartisan commissions such as the Simpson-Bowles Commission, have offered significant policy ideas that will return the nation back to fiscal stability. “An American economic collapse is not only predictable but also inevitable if we continue on our current course,” wrote Representative Steve King (R-IA).[13]



[1] William F. Buckley, Jr., “Our mission statement,” National Review Online, November 19, 1955, <> accessed on May 11, 2012.
[2] Patrick J. Buchanan, Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survie to 2025?, Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martins Press, New York, 2011, p. vii.
[3] Editorial, “The unemployment rate is meaningless,” Investor’s Business Daily, May 4, 2012, <> accessed on May 7, 2012.
[4] Editorial, “More phony job numbers: Obama brags as joblessness reaches record high of 11 percent,” The Washington Times, May 4, 2012, <> accessed on May 7, 2012.
[5] Buchanan., p. 10.
[6] John J. DiIulio, Jr., “Facing up to big government,” National Affairs, No. 11,Washington, D.C., Spring 2012, p. 26.
[7] The Heritage Foundation, “Entitlements,” in Issues 2012: The Candidates Briefing Book, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., 2012, <> accessed on May 17, 2012.
[8] Michael D. Tanner, “The coming entitlement tsunami,” Cato Institute, Washington, D.C., April 7, 2012, <> accessed on May 17, 2012.
[9] J.D. Foster, The 2012 Tax Policy Two-Step: Taxmaggeddon, Then Tax Reform, Issue Brief, No. 3599, May 9, 2012, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., <> accessed on May 11, 2012.
[10] Ibid.
[11] DiIulio, p. 28.
[12] Erik Wasson and Daniel Strauss, “Senate rejects Obama budget in 99-0 vote,” The Hill, May 16, 2012, <> accessed on May 17, 2012.
[13] Steve King, “King op-ed in Des Moines Register: In 2012 election, you will decide America’s destiny,” Office of Representative Steve King, December 30, 2011, <> accessed on May 17, 2012.


John Hendrickson is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute.

LIMITS is one of our quarterly membership newsletters, arriving in March, June, September, and December. It consists of short articles and essays on protection of human rights by limiting the powers of government.


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