This week I want to talk about government spending. In 1954, the average new house cost just over $10,000, a new car was under $2,000, gasoline was under 30 cents a gallon, and you could buy a magazine for 20 cents.
That was also the last year that government spending in America declined from one year to the next. The numbers are documented in the Historical Tables of the United States budget, but a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that only 60 percent of Americans believe it to be true. Thirteen percent said it was false and probably assumed there must have been some year in between that government spending slipped. After all, we’re talking about years that included the tax revolt, the Reagan Revolution, the Perot movement, and Bill Clinton’s declaration that the “era of big government” was over.
Thirty-one percent aren’t sure if it’s true or not. But the stark reality is that despite voting for candidates who promised lower spending and taxes in just about every election for the past half-century, total federal government spending has kept going up every year since Bill Haley was topping the charts with “Rock Around the Clock” and a young singer named Elvis Presley made his first commercial recording. That’s the same year the very first edition of Sports Illustrated was published, the Milwaukee Braves welcomed Hank Aaron as a rookie, and the shot clock was invented for a new basketball league, the NBA.
Ray Kroc met the McDonald brothers to make fast food and franchising history in 1954, and the first Burger King was opened in Miami. It sold burgers and milkshakes for 18 cents each. The Tonight Show aired for the first time in 1954 with Steve Allen as host and [J.R.R.] Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was published.
Federal government spending has gone up every year since Joe DiMaggio married Marilyn Monroe, and the impact of that spending is staggering.
Since 1954, if federal government spending had grown just enough to keep up with the population and inflation, it would have totaled approximately $1.2 trillion in 2010, instead of more than twice the amount it is today.
It’s important to note that from 1954 to 2010, Republicans controlled the White House for 34 years and Democrats for 22. Democrats controlled Congress for 44 years and the Republicans for 12. So this long-lasting spending spree was enabled on a completely bipartisan basis.
That bipartisan spending spree began in the year that the plane carrying the president of the United States was called Air Force One for the first time.
It was that same year that, a young woman of character and color was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus launched a civil rights movement that challenged our nation to live up to our highest ideals. In that same year, the U.S. Supreme Court finally declared that separate educational systems for white and black were “inherently unequal” and unconstitutional.
1954 was also the year that France gave up its colonial ties in Indochina. Vietnam was divided, with the North going to the communists and the South destined to create heartache for the United States.
Perhaps most stunning of all, the fact that 1954 was the last year to see federal government spending decline in America means that about eight out of 10 Americans living today have never been alive when government spending went down.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero.