$5 Trillion Down the Drain

$5 Trillion Down the Drain by Stephen Moore for Rasmussen Reports

A Commentary By Stephen Moore

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, everyone should read Robert Higgs’ economic classic “Crisis and Leviathan.” The critical warning of this masterpiece is that government always uses a crisis — from the Civil War to the Great Depression to World War II — to expand power, not only during the emergency but also afterward. Emergencies tend to ratchet up the cost and power of government permanently.

That expansion of government authority is especially unwise now, given that when this coronavirus fiasco is finally over, it may go down in history as one of the greatest government screwups in American history. That’s saying a lot.

As a nation, we spend just short of $5 trillion a year in Washington and at least another $1 trillion at the state and local level. Our government spends 1 of every 3 dollars that passes through the U.S. economy. It is the largest enterprise in the history of the world.

You don’t have to be an Ayn Rand devotee to see how the government has stumbled in its primary function: protecting the health and security of the public. Every citizen should ask elected officials: How was the health security system in America, with $1 trillion of federal tax dollars spent, so radically unprepared and ill-equipped?

As an aside, it is astonishing that even after the government collapse, we still have politicians who are peddling “Medicare for All.” Is there any sane person who wants to expand the state’s control of the medical care system after this?

At the center of this calamity is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a $10-billion agency that did not have a screen or easily administered test to find out whether citizens had contracted the virus. My Heritage Foundation colleague Robert Moffit, a health care expert, recently explained the problems at the CDC. He said, “Germany and Japan quickly developed diagnostic testing for the new virus, and South Korea was soon testing large numbers of patients quickly. By comparison, the American performance was subpar.” He says that private pharmaceutical companies were developing tests, but “public health authorities were restricted to using the failed CDC test.”

These failures wound up costing the U.S. economy at least $1 trillion of lost output. How is it that Korea had more effective screening than we did?

President Donald Trump’s adversaries blame this mess on his proposed cuts in funding at the National Institutes of Health and the CDC. But those cuts never happened. Trump must take some of the blame because he was president when the CDC failed us. But it’s doubtful more money would have averted this crisis. The CDC was too preoccupied looking into gun control, climate change, and gay and transgender issues.

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