Joe Biden and the Cost of Living
I've always thought the phrase "cost of living" was an odd one. Ideally, there should not be a "cost" to live. As divinely created individuals, all of us have the right to walk the earth and to live freely and without interference so long as we respect the rights of others. This was the dignity that our ancestors claimed when they wrote the British Magna Carta in 1215, with its specification of "liberties, rights, and concessions" and the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, with its remarkable second paragraph beginning: "We hold these truths to be self-evident ..."
Unfortunately, few today spend much time pondering the "unalienable rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Yet belief in those rights, properly understood, was and has been the basis of our independence as a nation and of our continued existence for 246 years. Before their declaration of independence, and the eight years of war it took to secure their freedom, Americans were under the thumb of British courts; arbitrary taxation and regulation; mercantilist policies on manufactured goods; and military occupation for which they, the occupied people, were expected to pay. As British colonists without representation or self-rule, Americans paid a high "cost of living," but eventually, through gradual steps toward self-rule, they claimed the right to live freely without the heavy burden of arbitrary taxes and regulations.
Reading the documents of the era, one finds that the British government was remarkably tone-deaf and even callous in dealing with colonials. Decisions were made without input from those affected and in an opaque and inflexible manner, and when colonists objected, as did Benjamin Franklin in his role as agent of the Pennsylvania Assembly, British authorities were unresponsive and even derisive of Franklin's respectful petitions.
Today we face those same qualities of abuse, disregard, and contempt on the part of both our elected officials and the unelected Deep State that runs so much of our government. Since the election of Obama in 2008, America has taken a sharp turn toward enslavement by this vast and inflexible State, and now every week brings new outrages, from an SEC ruling requiring business reporting of environmental liabilities to a politicized Justice Department gone insane with legal actions against American citizens, including a former president.
Our colonial ancestors were facing a small set of British-appointed governors and judges and a small, albeit powerful, army of occupation to back them up. Today we face a federal government of 2 million workers backed by a military of 1.2 million and state and local force of 7.4 million — altogether 18% of U.S. workers. Big Government is also supported by 34.1 million workers in education and health services, most of them government-funded, and millions of others in media, entertainment, and liberal non-profits. This enormous bloc of government-funded workers, much of it now unionized, is a reliable supporter of expanded government funding and power.
Every day, the American people are more enslaved by this behemoth, and the odds of regaining our true freedom become slimmer. Tens of millions now accept the socialist tenet that government has the right to seize whatever it likes and to direct not just the economy, but the personal lives of its citizens. We are no longer on the road to serfdom — we are already there.
Taxes are a big part of the "cost" of living. After making a lifetime of payments to pay off a mortgage, one should not face losing one's home because of property taxes, but in many locales, property taxes are a huge burden. New Jersey, at 2.21%, has the highest property tax in the country, but Illinois and New Hampshire are not far behind (versus Hawaii, with 0.30%). On a one-million-dollar home, as many middle-class homes are in New Jersey, one would be paying $22,100 annually in property taxes — that in addition to home insurance, maintenance, utilities, and other expenses (hapless New Jersey also has the second highest utility costs).
There are also state, federal, and local personal income taxes, payroll and FICA taxes, capital gains taxes, sales taxes, gasoline taxes, car license taxes, usage fees — and, when you're done, estate and inheritance taxes.
Our ancestors rebelled by penning an immortal Declaration of Independence and by fighting a war to gain their freedom. Violence is uncalled for and unnecessary today, but a second Declaration of Independence with the support of voters and conservative representatives would go a long way toward regaining our freedom and cutting the "cost" of living.
How to reduce the "cost" of living? Begin by eliminating the IRS and the personal income tax. Biden's plan to use $80 billion to double the size of the IRS is exactly the wrong direction. U.S. taxpayers are paying tens of billions each year just to collect money from themselves. By eliminating the personal income tax and the IRS, government could cut 94,000 current employees and an additional 87,000 to be added under Biden's plan. These 181,000 employees do nothing but collect money from taxpayers to pay their own salaries and those of other unneeded workers.
By returning U.S. federal expenditures to 2% of GDP, as it was for most of the first 130 years of our nation's history, the U.S. could actually strengthen vital services. Doing so would spur real economic growth to 5% or more, thus doubling real GDP every 12 years. With the bulk of federal spending devoted to national defense, military spending would remain stable (1.75% of doubled future GDP versus 3.5% of current, lower GDP), while other vital services could be adequately funded.
It's not always noted that during the first 140 years of our Republic, inflation was practically nonexistent. A loaf of bread that cost a penny in 1784 still cost a penny in 1914, until Wilson began expanding the size and scope of government. At that very moment, inflation began to climb, and it has done so every decade since, though never so much as under FDR/Truman, Nixon/Carter, and Biden. The fundamental driver of inflation in our day is government spending, which saps funding and resources from the private economy and lowers productivity, thus raising the cost of goods and services.
Biden's war on fossil fuel has raised the cost of living both directly, through higher energy prices, and indirectly, via all the energy inputs throughout the economy. Wheat is a good example. As of October 2022, a bushel of wheat in the U.S. cost just under $9.50; that same bushel of wheat in mid-2000 cost $2.60 and in May 2019, under President Trump, still cost only $5.03. Oil and natural gas are crucial inputs for the production of wheat and all other agricultural products. Oil prices have doubled under President Biden, while natural gas, an even more important input (involved in the production of fertilizer), has gone from under $2/ in March 2020 to $5.40/million Btu (spiking recently at $8.50). Increased energy costs have raised the price of agricultural goods.
And so it goes throughout the economy. Biden does not seem to care about the "cost" of living for ordinary Americans, no matter how much pain he is causing. The ideal of freedom and the goal of small government — ideas so precious to our Founders — are despised by progressives and, in a now routine Orwellian twist, said to be attacks on "democracy." But the only way for true democracy to survive in the era of Big Government is to begin the process of reducing the size and power of government.
Ideally, the basic "cost" of living everywhere should be no more than what it costs to shelter, feed, and clothe oneself. Absent the burden of government taxation and regulation, these costs would be very low in the U.S. For most of our modern history, a bushel of wheat cost less than $5, and a small apartment could be rented for $200–300 per month. Biden has raised the cost of living to much higher levels because, like most liberals, he seems oblivious toward those who actually pay the higher costs that government imposes. Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to rise while government and government-related workers continue to prosper.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).
Image via Max Pixel.