The last decade has been about growing the size of government and encroaching on the freedoms and liberties of more than 300 million Americans. So, how fitting is it that the decade comes to an end with California passing legislation that makes it illegal for freelance contractors to produce more than 35 web articles in a year for a company? It is even more fitting to close out the 2010s when you learn that the policy has already produced several unintended consequences, including lost opportunities and income for freelancers residing in The Golden State. Former President Ronald Reagan always quipped that the most dangerous words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
He was right.
Whether Democrats occupied the White House or Republicans controlled the House and Senate, the federal government has increased in size and scope. The Tea Party failed to resuscitate the American spirit of limited government, fiscal conservatism, and personal freedoms when the movement invaded Washington following the election of President Barack Obama. Even with a red-colored tsunami engulfing the nation whole since his ascent to the Oval Office, the federal government has only gotten bigger without any respite in sight.
Indeed, Washington’s behavior has been mirrored by nearly every state in the nation as the largesse is prevalent throughout most state legislatures and municipal buildings. Politicians at all three levels come up with unique tools and ingenious mechanisms to tax you, regulate your life, and take care of you from cradle to grave.
For years, the state has intervened in every major industry under the sun, such as health care, housing, and education. This has made matters worse, proving the Milton Friedman’s quote “the government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem” correct. Over the last decade, the state has homed in on a diverse array of other issues, including e-cigarettes, raw milk, ride-sharing, soda pop, and anything else the government declares is bad and wishes to tax, regulate, or restrict.
To fully grasp the government’s expansion, it is essential to assess the numbers.
The national debt has skyrocketed from $12 trillion at the start of the decade to more than $23 trillion. Federal spending has gone from $3.5 trillion to $4.5 trillion. The civil service has edged up to 22.64 million. While nobody can provide an exact number, it is estimated that there are nearly 500 federal departments, agencies, and sub-agencies to centrally plan and manage the nation.
Fed by the Federal Reserve
Indeed, the 2010s were about the Federal Reserve reigning supreme in the Swamp, feeding its creatures of the marsh.
Over the last decade, the Eccles Building has contracted more power than ever before. By unleashing multiple rounds of quantitative easing, even during the current boom phase of the business cycle, the Fed has enabled all this spending and debt that has been ubiquitous in Washington. The balance sheet is around $4 trillion, interest rates are at historic lows, and the money supply has roughly doubled in just ten years.
When an institution can control the printing press and artificially suppress interest rates, this entity can encourage politicians to spend, manipulate economies, and distort markets. That is what the Fed has done in this time period, proving that it can fuel growth and be purveyor of busts. Of course, the central bank has also triggered a diverse array of moral hazards throughout the economy either directly with monetary policy or indirectly by influencing legislative efforts.
The Roaring Twenties
A lot of wise men have uttered plenty of derogatory criticisms of government over time. One of the greatest lamentations on government came from Thomas Sowell, who wrote: “Give a man a fish and he will ask for tartar sauce and French fries! Moreover, some politician who wants his vote will declare all these things to be among his ‘basic rights.’”
This summarizes the inherent nature of the state. Every decade has some sort of historical connotation: The Greed Decade of the 1980s, the Lost Decade of the 1990s, the Boston Title Town of the 2000s, and Big Government of the 2010s.
What will the ‘20s be remembered for? Considering that the government continues to spy on its citizens, diminish their civil liberties, tax them to death, destroy their purchasing power, and burden the next generation with astronomical debt, it is likely that the ‘20s will just be Big Government 2.0. Or, perhaps, it will be the decade of the bills being due.
Read more from Andrew Moran.