Lost In Space

“We sense that we live in a time set apart.”

~ George W. Bush, State of the Union, 2004

A remarkable combination of self-delusion and self-satisfaction seems to be driving Americans to self-destruction. Limited government…balanced budget…fewer regulations — Republican principles from the Eisenhower era might have protected them. Too bad Republicans no longer believe in them.

Never before has the nation been so deeply in debt. Yet, never before have any people been so eager to spend more. On the road to ruination…they press down on the accelerator.

Here, from Bill King, are the average annual real increases in domestic discretionary spending:

LBJ 1965—69 4.3% Richard Nixon 1970—75 6.8% Gerald Ford 1976—77 8.0% Jimmy Carter 1978—81 2.0% Ronald Reagan 1982—89 -1.3% George H.W. Bush 1990—93 4.0% Bill Clinton 1994—2001 2.5% George W. Bush 2002—04 8.2% (Source: Club for Growth, based on U.S. Budget, Historical Tables, 2004)

We are talking, of course, of the usual slimy programs. George W. Bush, the conservative republican, is increasing spending more than 300% faster than his predecessor, Bill Clinton, the liberal democrat.

But that is the charm of politics. Its shifty sands cover the creepy tracks of countless crooks and connivers. No sooner has a man piled up a few corrupt positions, policies and proposals…than the winds change, and his whole program is blown away. He re-invents himself as the opportunities present themselves.

“It’s strange how you never know what you’re going to get with a President,” writes Doug Casey. “Few people remember that Franklin Roosevelt ran on what was almost a radical free market platform in 1932, decrying the tax, spend and regulate policies of Hoover. One might have thought you’d have gotten a fiscal conservative with Reagan…but his policies sent the deficit through the roof. It was reasonable to anticipate a socialist disaster with Clinton, but government spending grew slower than the overall economy. Baby Bush, few now recall, made noises about personal freedom, and no more ‘nation building’ in foreign hellholes.

“I’m not sure what conclusion on can draw from all this, apart from the fact that the kind of people who survive in the game of politics long enough to become President are, almost necessarily, pathological liars.”

We do not recall it, but according to legend, if not history, there was a time when republicans still might have had a claim to some small measure of integrity. The lumpen republican could hold his head high, for at least his party platform rested on what many took to be eternal verities — spend little, balance the budget, and mind your own business.

Murray Rothbard saw the sand get into the Republican gear box more than 10 years ago. He wrote:

“In the spring of 1981, conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives cried. They cried because, in the first flush of the Reagan Revolution that was supposed to bring drastic cuts in taxes and government spending, as well as a balanced budget, they were being asked by the White House and their own leadership to vote for an increase in the statutory limit on the federal public debt, which was then scraping the legal ceiling of one trillion dollars. They cried because all of their lives they had voted against an increase in public debt, and now they were being asked, by their own party and their own movement, to violate their lifelong principles. The White House and its leadership assured them that this breach in principle would be their last: that it was necessary for one last increase in the debt limit to give President Reagan a chance to bring about a balanced budget and to begin to reduce the debt. Many of these Republicans tearfully announced that they were taking this fateful step because they deeply trusted their President, who would not let them down.

“Famous last words. In a sense, the Reagan handlers were right: there were no more tears, no more complaints, because the principles themselves were quickly forgotten, swept into the dustbin of history. Deficits and the public debt have piled up mountainously since then, and few people care, least of all conservative Republicans. Every few years, the legal limit is raised automatically. By the end of the Reagan reign the federal debt was $2.6 trillion; now it is $3.5 trillion and rising rapidly [ed. Note: $7 trillion as of today, Jan. 23, 2004]. And this is the rosy side of the picture, because if you add in ‘off-budget’ loan guarantees and contingencies, the grand total federal debt is $20 trillion.

“Before the Reagan era, conservatives were clear about how they felt about deficits and the public debt: a balanced budget was good, and deficits and the public debt were bad, piled up by free-spending Keynesians and socialists, who absurdly proclaimed that there was nothing wrong or onerous about the public debt. In the famous words of the left-Keynesian apostle of ‘functional finance,’ Professor Abba Lerner, there is nothing wrong with the public debt because ‘we owe it to ourselves.’ In those days, at least, conservatives were astute enough to realize that it made an enormous amount of difference whether — slicing through the obfuscatory collective nouns — one is a member of the ‘we’ (the burdened taxpayer) or of the ‘ourselves’ (those living off the proceeds of taxation).

“Since Reagan, however, intellectual-political life has gone topsy-turvy. Conservatives and allegedly ‘free-market’ economists have turned handsprings trying to find new reasons why ‘deficits don’t matter.'”

Today, if you were to pose the question to the small-town republican, you might still find a faint residue of the Old Religion. But the poor man has been betrayed…by his party…by his representatives…by politics itself…and by his own fatal urges.

Like investors, republicans have gone a little light in the head. They no longer aim for a balanced budget and modest programs; they aim for the stars.

“You can’t have a war, cut taxes, have the economy in a garbage pail and spend billions going into space,” said an American quoted in the Economist. But this old-school Republican is sadly out of step with the times. The new-school conservatives are on the march…headed to buffoonery.

It is fairly late in the day of what Bank Credit Analyst refers to as the “supercycle” of credit. The idea is fairly simple. All of nature works in cycles. You are born; you die. There are the seasons, the earth’s annual movement around the sun, and its daily spin. Things go up and then they go down. The ‘hog cycle’ — in which hog prices rise and fall with production — takes only about 18 months. The presidential cycle takes 4 years. A supercycle is merely a cycle that takes a long time and includes many other mini-cycles.

The key dates for America’s supercycle of credit — also known to Daily Reckoning readers as the Dollar Standard Era — are 1913, 1933, and 1971. In 1913, the Federal Reserve was set up. In 1933, Roosevelt banned gold and brought European-style social welfare programs to America. And in 1971, Richard Nixon broke the last link with gold…creating an international monetary system based entirely on paper — or fiat — money.

Not entirely by coincidence, 1971 was also the year in which the space shuttle program was launched. Since then, in current dollars, about $150 billion has been spent on the program. That may seem like a lot of money to you, dear reader, but it is nothing compared to the cost of the next phase. President Bush plans to put up a permanent station on the moon…and to move on from there to Mars. “The sky’s the limit,” says the Economist.

Thus we see the full ambition of the new conservatives — to conquer not just this tired old ball we live on…but the entire galaxy.

“This development will open new worlds; and its consequences will go a long way toward cleaning up and vastly enriching the old one. It will not be merely revolutionary: it will be Promethean.”

The writer is Rod Martin of Vanguard, a republican Political Action Committee, a man who seems to have spent too much time staring at the full moon. Now, he howls:

“The only real question is who will exploit it. Will America colonize those new worlds, controlling the economic life of humanity to a degree today’s Arabs can only dream of, or will we allow others to dominate us instead?

“Will Washington and Madison’s children continue to lead in science, military power, and political dominance, or will it cede that to the socialists in Brussels, or even the totalitarians in Beijing?

“That question remains to be answered. But for today, while we wait for the new Orvilles and Wilburs to do their magic, George Bush is building — at a miniscule cost — the infrastructure to give America the early lead. The day may come when we and our children owe all we have to this single act of statesmanship.”

Here we have what must be the new-Republican manifesto. Gone is any trace of republican virtue…laissez-faire deference, humility, modesty, probity and thrift. Instead, we are expected not just to get along with our fellow man, but to dominate him politically…to outdo him in science…and to outspend him. Forget letting him run his own life. We are going to control “the economic life of humanity.”

They might as well be democrats!

What words can stand up against this grandiose vision, dear reader? It is arrogant. It is audacious. It is proud and confident. It is loony.

Yes, that is it…or lunatic. Root = luna, the moon.

The trouble with the new republicans is that they don’t really believe in civil society or free markets. Orville and Wilbur Wright launched the airline industry without taxpayer money. Now, according to the republican guardians of the modern capitalism, it will take more than a similar act of entrepreneurship to put us in to space…but an act of statesmanship.

“I’m struck by…the grand idealism of the crowds…” writes our favorite Martian, David Brooks, in the NYTimes. “It’s sort of inspiring in this cold Iowa winter to see at least some Americans who have preserved, despite decades of discouragement, a stubborn faith in politics…”

Yes, thank God the rubes haven’t caught on!

Bill Bonner [send him mail] is the author, with Addison Wiggin, of Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving the Soft Depression of The 21st Century.

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