President Barack Obama’s budget this week makes clear the real political equilibrium in the US. The federal government is shrinking. Discretionary spending in the new Obama budget would shrink to 4.9 per cent of gross domestic product in 2023, compared with 7.9 per cent of GDP in 2008. Both parties have signed on to this shrinkage. Neither will try to stop it.
The implications are enormous. Until 2017 at the earliest, there is likely to be no or very meagre action to address America’s growing underclass, gaping inequalities, decrepit infrastructure, persistent drought or worsening climate change. Slow growth, unemployable young people, a vast incarcerated minority population and gaudy excesses at the top will remain the norm. Even Mr Obama’s few new initiatives, for example for early childhood development and new infrastructure, are tiny drops in America’s ocean of unmet need.