A Weekly Dose of Hazlitt: In the Sweet By and By

In the Sweet By and By” is the title of Henry Hazlitt’s Newsweek column from November 2, 1953. Hazlitt catalogs repeated broken promises from various presidents to balance the budget. Presidents change but the lies remain the same.

Just before the Republican convention of 1952, General
Eisenhower expressed the opinion that the Federal budget
could be cut as much as $40,000,000,000 in the
next few years. In his State of the Union message on
Feb. 2 of this year he said: “The first order of business
is the elimination of the annual deficit.” But he has successively
explained that he could not balance the budget
for the 1953 fiscal year, or for the current 1954 fiscal
year. On Oct. 12 his Director of the Budget, Joseph M.
Dodge, warned: “The budget-balancing problem in the
1955 fiscal year is at least the same in magnitude as the
one we faced this year.”

This pattern, in which the budget is going to be balanced
by and by, but of course not now, is ominously
reminiscent. Let us recall some statements by Franklin
D. Roosevelt:

“The plan is to reduce the cost of current Federal
government operations by 25 percent.”—Oct. 19, 1932.

“For three long years the Federal government has
been on the road toward bankruptcy. . . . [By the end of
the fiscal year 1934] we shall have piled up an accumulated
deficit of $5,000,000,000. . . . Too often in recent
history liberal governments have been wrecked on the
rocks of loose fiscal policy. . . . I give you assurance that
if this [passing of the economy act] is done, there is reasonable
prospect that within a year the income of the
government will be sufficient to cover the expenditures
of the government.”—March 10, 1933.

“We should plan to have a definitely balanced budget
for the third year of recovery and from that time
on seek a continuing reduction of the national debt.”—
Jan. 4, 1934.

“We can look forward with assurance to a decreasing
deficit.—Nov. 29, 1935.

“We approach a balance of the national budget.
National income increases; tax receipts, based on that
income, increase without the levying of new taxes.”—
Jan. 3, 1936.

“If [the national income] keeps on rising at the present
rate, as I am confident it will, the receipts (of the
government) . . . within a year or two, will be sufficient
. . . to balance the annual budget.”—Oct. 1, 1936.

“The Treasury is all right and we are balancing that
budget—you needn’t worry.”—Oct. 3, 1937.

“It has taken courage for the Federal government
to go into the ‘red’ . . . but it has been worth it.”—July
8, 1938.

“I here and now prophesy: That the Republican
leadership, conservative at heart, will seek to run with
the hare and hunt with the hounds, talking for balanced
budgets out of one side of its mouth and for opportunist
raids on the Treasury out of the other. . . . —Jan.
7, 1939.

“For several years we have been compelled to
strengthen our own national defense. That has created
a very large portion of our Treasury deficits.”—
Jan. 4,1940.

And here are a couple of statements from Harry S.
Truman:

“The budget for the fiscal year 1949 calls for total
expenditures of $39,700,000,000. Receipts during
this period are estimated under existing tax laws at
$44,500,000,000. This will balance the budget and provide
$4,800,000,000 which should be used to reduce
the public debt.”—Jan. 12, 1948. (There was actually a
deficit of $1,811,440,000.)

“In a period of high prosperity it is not sound public
policy for the government to operate at a deficit.
A government surplus at this time is vitally important.
. . . I am, therefore, recommending new tax legislation.
. . . ”—Jan. 10, 1949. (The deficit for the fiscal
year 1950 was $3,122,102,000.)

Space forbids further quotations, but the reader, I
am sure, gets the idea. Each President began with pious
promises of a budget balance, but there were always
reasons why this could be done only in some indefinite
future, and not now. Meanwhile, the national debt
keeps mounting and the purchasing power of the dollar
keeps shrinking and a Republican budget director is
warning against “the disturbing effects on the economy”
of spending cuts that are “too abrupt.” Isn’t this where
we came in?

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