John Stossel: Why didn't sequester crash the economy?
That may surprise you, since President Obama likened the sequester to taking a "meat cleaver" to government, causing FBI agents to be furloughed, prosecutors to let criminals escape and medical research to grind to a halt!
The media hyped it, too. The NBC Nightly News said, "The sequester could cripple air travel, force firefighter layoffs - even kick preschoolers out of child care!"
The truth is that the terrifying sequester cuts weren't even cuts. They were merely a small reduction in government's planned increase in spending. A very small reduction.
After a decade, the federal government will simply spend about $4.6 trillion a year instead of $4.5 trillion (in 2012 dollars).
And still members of Congress, Republicans included, look for ways to delay the cuts, like spreading them out over 10 years instead of making any now. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., asked, "If we cannot do this little bit ... how are we ever going to balance the budget?"
Actually, we don't even need to balance the budget. If we just slowed the growth of government to 1 or 2 percent a year, we could grow our way out of unsustainable debt.
Paul recommends freezing hiring of federal workers, staying out of most foreign military conflicts and eliminating four Cabinet-level departments: Housing, Education, Energy and Commerce. Why do we even have a Commerce Department? Commerce just happens. The free market provides housing and energy. Education is funded by states.
Those Cabinet departments don't exist just to help you. The housing budget funds vouchers that give people an incentive not to seek higher-paying jobs, plus advocacy groups and in a few cases even homes for the bureaucrats themselves.
Federal education spending pleases education bureaucrats and teachers unions but doesn't raise kids' test scores. Energy subsidies go to "green" crony capitalists like those who ran Solyndra. The Commerce Department awards taxpayer-funded trips to politically connected CEOs to promote their companies overseas.
We could cut still more departments. I'd start with the departments of Labor and Agriculture. Workers can labor and farmers can farm without federal help.
But the chances of bigger cuts - or tackling the biggest threat, Medicare - seem remote when government won't even ditch budget items like these:
. $140,000 to study pig feces in China;
. $100,000 for a videogame about aliens saving planets from climate change;
. $88,000 for a comedy tour in India called "Make Chai, Not War"; and
. $55,000 to study immaturity and drinking.
Did those sound like jokes? They are all too real.
Maybe I - and people my age - can avoid making cuts. Since so much spending is lavished on older Americans, we can let younger generations foot the bill. But that will be tricky, since the portion of the population that's my age keeps getting larger.
My fellow baby boomers and I rudely refuse to die, and we want all the cool new stuff modern medicine invents. We expect it to be free, or nearly free, through Medicare.
Unfortunately, there aren't enough young people to pay for what we'll collect from Medicare. Birth rates are falling. Young people in America now don't have enough babies to replace themselves, let alone enough to become workers to fund Medicare. Worse, many of those young people learned bad lessons from us baby boomers - like how to be parasites.
One student from California State, Northridge told my viewers that his plan for the future is: "Beat the system - take out a bunch of loans, and don't pay them back. ... What (else) are you going to do, work?"
Well, someone has to.
Frederic Bastiat wrote, "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."
But government, which wants you to think it is so useful and generous, can't spend a dime until it takes that dime from us.
It's time to stop kidding ourselves. Think of the sequester "cuts" as a very gentle wake-up call.
John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."