Home About Archives RSS Feed

The Independent Investor: Power Shift Part II

By Bill Schmick
iBerkshires Columnist
Big Brother is Getting Bigger

Depending on whose sound bite you are listening to, government spending has gotten bigger or smaller over the last few years. Oddly enough, both sides are correct. It all depends on what statistics you are quoting.

President Obama claims that federal spending, under his administration, has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years. His statement is accurate, as long as you remember that the 2009 fiscal budget is considered part of his predecessor's legacy. As such, the $700 billion TARP bailout and the $831 billion stimulus package occurred at the end of President Bush's term, even though Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill and voted as a senator for TARP. How does that work?

Part of the confusion lies in calendar versus fiscal year accounting. Before 1842, the federal fiscal year was the same as the calendar year. Since then it has changed several times and since 1977 the government's fiscal year begins on Oct. 1 and ends on Sept. 30, so the spending in 2009 was pinned on Bush since he was president on Oct. 1, 2009. I guess that is fitting since the cause and result of the financial crisis that continues today occurred while the Republican Party was in power.

Despite the administration's double talk, the fact is that 2010, 2011 and 2012 are three of only four fiscal years since 1945 that the federal government spent more than 24 percent of GDP in a single year. The Office of Management and Budget predicts that this year federal spending will hit 24.3 percent of GDP. That is about what the government spent in fiscal 1942, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and America went to war in both Europe and the Pacific.

Before we look at spending today, readers need to understand that there are at least two measures of government spending. The one most quoted by the economic journals and politicians we'll call "G," which is how much federal, state and local governments directly contribute to economic activity measured as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is the sum of all the goods and services they provide.

There is also a broader measure that captures all the spending in government budgets. This figure includes all of "G" plus interest payments on our debt, transfer payments through programs like food stamps, social security, Medicare and Medicaid, unemployment insurance, housing vouchers, Veterans benefits, et al. As you might imagine, when you add all this into "G," government spending, as a percentage of GDP, turns out to be closer to 37 percent. In comparison, the average spend since 1960 is about 32 percent.

Now that is down from the 39 percent that it hit in the second quarter of 2009, when the financial crisis was at its peak. If we confine our analysis of government growth since then, government spending has decreased whether you use "G" or the broader measure.

However, if you measure government growth from the beginning of the decade, when government spending totaled just 30 percent of GDP, then yes, government has grown by a whopping 6 percent in the last 12 years.

Beneath the statistics we can see that the government's economic role has clearly grown larger and with it the power it welds. Its historical role as provider of public goods and services remains but is shrinking as more and more of government's budget is spent on transferring cash and in-kind payments to taxpayers directly through programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

This is no accident. Remember that an entire generation of Americans is close to or already in retirement. Baby Boomers are tapping Social Security while experiencing mounting health issues as they grow older. They are turning to Medicare to answer their needs. And why shouldn't they?

Throughout their working careers, these hard-working Americans, (who fought three wars for this country in their lifetime along the way), have contributed paycheck after paycheck to guarantee that when the time came, Social Security and Medicare would be there for them when they needed it. So, yes government has grown larger. It is the "why" of it that so many politicians conveniently forget.

As the government's role in the economy gains force, so does its power. But power is agnostic. It can be used for good or for evil. We have seen how Wall Street has abused power. In my opinion, government spending that is used to honor its contract with America's retiring workers is a proper use of that power. Whether this country can afford to honor its commitments is another story and a question we will answer in a forthcoming column.

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment adviser representative with Berkshire Money Management. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own. None of the information presented here should be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. Direct inquires to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com.
News Headlines
Williamstown Planning Board Narrows Focus for Waubeeka Zoning Change
North Adams Sees 4% Tax Rate Hike; Average Bill Up $65
Lanesborough Sets Tax Rate, Extends Town Administrator Contract
Pittsfield Sets Tax Rate; Holds Back Money For Reserves
Clarksburg Board of Health Demands to East Road Cleanup
MassPIRG Warns of Dangerous Toys For Holiday Season
How Can the Fed’s Actions Affect You?
Former Coyote Den in Lanesborough to Become Package Store
Brayton Students Thank — And Get Thanks From — Returning Veteran McCarron
Williamstown Selectmen Discuss Parking Woes on South Street

Bill Schmick is registered as an investment advisor representative and portfolio manager with Berkshire Money Management (BMM), managing over $200 million for investors in the Berkshires. Bill’s forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of BMM. None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of BMM or a solicitation to become a client of BMM. The reader should not assume that any strategies, or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold or held by BMM. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or email him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill’s insights.




@theMarket (186)
Independent Investor (254)
November 2015 (4)
November 2014 (1)
October 2015 (9)
September 2015 (7)
August 2015 (7)
July 2015 (6)
June 2015 (8)
May 2015 (6)
April 2015 (8)
March 2015 (6)
February 2015 (7)
January 2015 (9)
December 2014 (7)
Currency Pullback Election Crisis Taxes Selloff Deficit Congress Debt Debt Ceiling Europe Fed Europe Japan Fiscal Cliff Interest Rates Greece Economy Federal Reserve Stimulus Recession Energy Rally Metals Oil Banks Housing Bailout Stock Market Commodities Euro Retirement Markets Stocks Jobs
Popular Entries:
The Independent Investor: Don't Fight the Fed
The Independent Investor: Understanding the Foreclosure Scandal
@theMarket: QE II Supports the Markets
The Independent Investor: Does Cash Mean Currencies?
@theMarket: Markets Are Going Higher
The Independent Investor: General Motors — Back to the Future
The Independent Investor: Will the Municipal Bond Massacre Continue?
@theMarket: Economy Sputters, Stocks Stutter
The Independent Investor: Why Are Interest Rates Rising?
The Independent Investor: How Will Wall Street II Play on Main Street?
Recent Entries:
The Independent Investor: How 'Black' Will This Black Friday Be?
@the Market: Buy the Dip
The Independent Investor: 'Bag Lady' Syndrome and You
The Independent Investor: Social Security & the Budget, Part II
@theMarket: How High Will We go?
The Independent Investor: Budget Deal Craters Social Security Strategies
@theMarket: Regaining the High Ground
The Independent Investor: Water Scarcity Not Only California's Problem
@theMarket: The Worst Is Over
The Independent Investor: The Pumpkin Patch Thrives in America