Since 2009, the national debt has virtually doubled, from $10 trillion to nearly $20 trillion. While a small portion of this figure can be attributed to the budget set prior to President Barack Obama’s first year in office, the rest — and arguably all the debt we will amass in 2017 — has Obama’s name written all over it.
Supporters of Obama say the debt accumulated under his watch was necessary to slow one of the worst recessions in modern history, but the truth is this gargantuan sum of cash was mostly wasted on failed social and government programs that did little to help the economy.
Just one example is the $831 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly called the “stimulus package.” Just some of the excellent “stimuli” provided by the ARRA included $1.3 million for road signs advertising the success of the stimulus package, $1.2 million sent to researchers at the University of California-San Francisco to study erectile dysfunction, and a whopping $535 million on the boondoggle Solyndra, a now-bankrupt solar-power manufacturer.
Although common-sense economists would never argue in favor of adding $10 trillion to the national debt, to illustrate just how foolish and wasteful the Obama years have been, consider for a moment the many things that could have been purchased with just half the debt added while President Obama has been in office, about $5 trillion.
No. 1: Gigantic homes for every impoverished family
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were, on average, 9.26 million families living below the poverty level each year from 2009 to 2015. Using $5 trillion, the United States could have purchased each one of those families a home worth $539,000, or a home worth about $269,000 plus $269,000 in cash.
No. 2: New cars for all
There are 125 million households in the United States. With $5 trillion, the federal government could have purchased every single household two brand-new cars worth $20,000 each. As a bonus, the government wouldn’t have had to bail out the U.S. auto industry!
No. 3: ‘Free’ college
The total outstanding student loan debt is about $1.4 trillion. With $5 trillion, every single penny of every single student loan could have been paid off, and with the remaining $3.6 trillion, every one of the 74 million children in America today could have received a college tuition voucher worth $48,000.
No. 4: A nationwide shopping spree
Americans currently owe about $750 billion in outstanding credit card debt and $1.2 trillion in auto loans. Using $5 trillion, every American could have been totally free of both kinds of debt, and to make things even better, the government could have thrown in a nationwide shopping spree worth $5,900 per person.
No. 5: Recession financial support
According to a report by CNN Money in 2010, the recession “killed off” about 7.9 million jobs. With $5 trillion, the government could have paid every single one of those people a salary of $79,000 per year for eight full years.
Because a lot of debt is added each year as a result of expanding entitlement programs, some would argue it's unfair to suggest it would have been possible for President Obama to do any of the things mentioned above. Of course, what Obama supporters won't tell you is he served his first two years as president with huge majorities in the House and Senate, which means he could have passed just about any reform he wanted, including to entitlement programs.
Government-run economies never work as they are intended, and they are never as efficient as free-market economies are. But if the government is going to wildly overspend our tax dollars, the least it could do is help a few million people along the way. Instead, led by President Obama, it has done nothing more than waste billions of dollars propping up a sluggish economy and supporting an absurd, costly, destructive regulatory red-tape factory that stifles business and progress for all people.
Justin Haskins (firstname.lastname@example.org) is executive editor of The Heartland Institute.