Written by on 5th March 2012

You may be aware that the Federal government is the one institution in America that doesn’t have to balance its budget. In a carefully choreographed dance between the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve System money is created out of thin air by the federal government and appears to be (so far, at least as long as the Chinese are willing to continue to buy US Treasury bonds) limitless. With low interest rates and no other places to put so many billions of $US, foreign governments like the Chinese will buy American treasury bonds, in effect lending us money at rates as low as 2%.

But as the presidential election looms over our 2012 news, we are becoming more aware that wild spending without anything more to pay for it than the hot air coming out of Washington DC can be very dangerous. If you doubt that we can look to Greece as a case study into what happens when a government and society continue to spend beyond their means. Yes, it’s not impossible, and in fact likely, that America can follow Greece into default and an ugly capsize from power along with a shocking drop in our standard of living if we do not fix government spending beyond its means.

From the actions of both Republican and Democratic administrations over the last 40 years, it’s clear that it doesn’t matter which party is in charge, it’s considered good politics to continue to increase spending on rewarding one’s political allies. With the largest prison population and highest incarceration rate of any country in the world one could wonder as to why we don’t look at how to reduce the spending on the world’s most richly funded criminal justice system – America’s. At the state level, where governments must balance their budgets, many initiatives are being explored on how to reduce the monies being spent on state corrections budgets. In some cases, like California, the state is under court orders to reduce overcrowding in prisons. In other cases, like Michigan, innovative approaches to parole with supervision are being used to reduce inmate incarceration totals and the states’ expenditures on prison related costs. Still other jurisdictions are experimenting with the idea of releasing elderly offenders as a way of mending families while relieving the state of the medical costs of maintaining an elderly population which has a very low risk of criminal recidivism.

The exception to this drive to lower costs for taxpayers is the US Department of Justice and its ever growing Federal Bureau of Prisons. The US Congress continues to pass laws criminalizing all kinds of behavior. And many of these new laws have eliminated the centuries old concept of mens rea, the need to be aware that one is committing a crime. All administrations continue to increase spending on the Federal Prison System who’s total population has grown to well over 200,000, a ten-fold increase over the last 40-50 years, while the overall American population has, at most, doubled.

In a Wall Street Journal story published on September 27, 2011 , this alarming breakdown in the Federal system of laws is explained further. Quoting from that article

“For centuries, a bedrock principle of criminal law has held that people must know they are doing something wrong before they can be found guilty. The concept is known as mens rea, Latin for a “guilty mind.” This legal protection is now being eroded as the U.S. federal criminal code dramatically swells. In recent decades, Congress has repeatedly crafted laws that weaken or disregard the notion of criminal intent. Today not only are there thousands more criminal laws than before, but it is easier to fall afoul of them.”

One result is that both administrations of Democrats and Republicans over the last 40 years have continued to increase the funding of the Federal BOP where it now hogs the major share of the Department of Justice’s budget. The politics of this is simple. “We’re being hard on crime”.

Our upcoming and new site ( will argue that the increased funding for prison has exactly the opposite effect of what some politicians would have us believe. We believe that imprisoning an ever increasing number of our citizens is increasing the level of crime in America, not lessening it.  The US Department of Justice doesn’t argue this fact as their statistics indicate that recidivism rates are well over 70%.

Stay tuned for more discussion…..

George Schussel
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