The golden age of government by Groupon

The idea behind Groupon is pretty simple: If you discount the price of something, then people are more likely to buy it. While we may not be willing to shell out $34 for artery-clogging amounts of Cherry Garcia, Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, and Chubby Hubby, we might sign on if the cost is just $17.

For decades now, we’ve been getting much more government than we’re actually willing to pay for. Which leads to…more government. About a decade ago, two Cato Institute scholars—Peter Van Doren and the late William Niskanen—reported on “Some Intriguing Findings About Federal Spending.” Basically, they found that when the government appears to charge citizens less money in the form of current taxes and fees, people are happy to purchase more government. “Controlling for the unemployment rate, federal spending [between 1981 and 2000] increased by about one-half percent of GDP for each one percentage point decline in the relative level of federal tax revenues.” Does anyone else remember a simpler, more parsimonious America? “Gas, grass, or ass—nobody rides for free” is only a bumper sticker these days.

Sadly, Groupon Government is one area in which bipartisanship rules like a schoolyard bully. Liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans are totally on board with Groupon Government. Barack Obama has been happy to give us 33 percent off the real price of government since taking office—and his latest budget plan doesn’t do anything to change that. It’s deficits all the way forward through 2024. There’s not even a feint toward matching revenue and expenditures.

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