In a libertarian world of civil rather than political society, the Treasury Department would pay the modest bills of a constitutionally limited government. It’s true that Congress holds the purse strings; but during an economic and financial crisis rooted in already-gargantuan government that—despite the news reports—has regulated money, credit and interest rates for a century, a sane Treasury’s vision for leadership and recovery would rule out seducing Congress with yet more elaborate and larger purses.
Indeed, the purse has elastic seams; This Treasury Department has compounded the “NASCAR” bailouts, helps inflate a silly “green-energy” bubble, and stands at the podium cheerleading the idea of regulating private-sector salaries among other priestly interventions in one formerly free endeavor after another. But creating fictitious economies through political means is nothing new; it’s government’s key function now.
I wanted to give Treasury an “F” for standing by as the 2009 deficit topped an incomprehensible $1.6 trillion amid this self-serving orgy, a political spending phenomenon unrelated to economic recovery. However Treasury gets only a “D” because it inherited from President Bush what was already the largest government on Earth ($3 trillion) a behemoth it had few complaints about financing. We can argue it till the whiskey’s gone, but there’s no question that under President Obama, Treasury has been instrumental in extending and “customizing” a “Stimulus to Nowhere” already making a beeline for the cliff’s edge, and things could have been otherwise this past year.
Federal interventions are so extensive that civil, voluntary society, as opposed to administered society, may never quite recover in this particular geographical area of the world during any of our lifetimes. But, I’m sure there’ll always be an America; it just might be somewhere else if other nations decide to abandon the collectivism that the U.S. now embraces as if it’s brand-new. Indeed, in the latest plunge into the pool of statism, our Treasury Department, like most in the political and taxpayer-funded class in modern America, thinks that medicine (apart from genuine public-health crises) is a public policy issue. So, mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be doctors or insurers; let ’em be veterinarians or a cash-only “Dr. 90210.”
Since it insists upon doing more than keeping the books, to get an “A,” the U.S. Treasury Department must take a leadership role in removing obstacles to corporate and small-business innovation like tax and capital-gain liberalization, and help expand economic deregulation on a massive scale. Apart from paying the government’s own light bill, Treasury’s leadership is only valuable when it prioritizes wise and honest alternatives to spending yet more stimulus money that it doesn’t have. It can take a lead role in expanding ideas like privatization, liberalizing America’s network industries like electricity and telecommunications (it will surprise few that the latter is being newly regulated rather than deregulated), simplifying taxes, explaining why a VAT is disastrous, and much more. The U.S. federal government buys us far too much misery with the $4 trillion it now spends annually; I almost wish it were more Machiavellian rather than just crazy. Freedom and liberty cost less than this, America.
Wayne Crews is Vice President for Policy and Director of Tech Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, author of the annual Ten Thousand Commandments report, and co-editor of CEI’s semi-annual Agenda for Congress.