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The Government Debt Paradox: Pick Your Poison

Lasting Debt

“Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste,” said President Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in November of 2008.  “They are opportunities to do big things.”

Rahm Emanuel looks happy. He should be – he is the mayor of Chicago, which is best described as crisis incarnate. Or maybe the proper term is perma-crisis? Anyway, it undoubtedly looks like a giant opportunity from his perspective, a gift that keeps on giving, so to speak. [PT]  Photo credit: Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

At the time of his remark, Emanuel was eager to exploit the 2008 financial crisis to raid the public treasury.  With the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009, Emanuel’s wish was granted.  The Obama administration had the opportunity to do big things.

Politically, the passage of the Recovery Act was a huge success.  Washington was able to dole out funds to their preferred projects like never before.  What could be better for a Congressman than to direct massive amounts of funds to infrastructure, healthcare, energy, security, law enforcement, and just about everything else?

Some Congressman even directed money to bridges and buildings that were then named after them.  No doubt, this flattered their egos.  But what it really did was memorialize their political swindle.

Economically, the Recovery Act was a great big dud.  The money was frittered away without producing any lasting wealth.  However, it did produce lasting debt.  Since the Recovery Act’s passage, the U.S. national debt has nearly doubled from roughly $10.6 trillion to nearly $20 trillion.

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