Issues & Insights

Biden Breaks The Record On Wealth Transfers: $4.9 Trillion

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The Democrats’ new favorite term is “human infrastructure,” which pretty much means anything they want to spend money on.

That raises the question: Just how much does the government spend on “human infrastructure” today? Turns out, it’s an eye-popping $4.9 trillion this year alone – a new record.

Buried in President Joe Biden’s 2022 budget is a document called Historical Tables, which breaks down annual federal revenues and spending in a variety of ways. One of the tables in this document tracks what the government calls “direct payments to individuals.”

These payments, mind you, don’t count salaries paid to federal employees or the cost of buying equipment. It’s just what the name states – direct money transfers. As the budget document explains:

‘These are federal government spending programs designed to transfer income (in cash or in-kind) to individuals or families. To the extent feasible, this category does not include reimbursements for current services rendered to the Government (e.g., salaries and interest).’

Under Biden, direct payments hit a huge new record high. Think about it this way. At $4.9 trillion, “direct payments to individuals” this year are equal to the entire federal budget of just two years ago. These money transfers will account for 22.3% of the nation’s entire GDP.

If this income transfer were a country, it would be bigger than Germany’s entire economy and slightly smaller than Japan’s.

Worse, the government will have to borrow $1.3 trillion of the money it’s transferring. That’s like robbing Peter’s children and grandchildren to pay Paul.

Nor do these numbers account for Biden’s bloated “American Jobs Plan” and “American Families Plan,” which would vastly expand the already massive wealth transfer state.

Much of this year’s explosion in direct payments came from the COVID-19 relief bills, with Biden’s bloated $1.9 trillion “rescue” plan adding to the pile.

But even without those one-time payments, the government has in recent decades become little more than a gigantic check-writing machine, thanks to the growth of middle-class entitlements.

This year, for example, the government will send out $1.1 trillion in Social Security checks to retirees, and another $843 billion to pay retiree medical bills. It will send another $139 billion to help students pay for college. It will write $379 billion in pension checks to retired federal workers.

Surprisingly little of this wealth transfer actually goes to the poor.

This year, only 5% of the $4.9 trillion will go toward welfare spending, 4% to food programs, and 11% toward Medicaid. So a lot of the money middle-class families are paying in taxes is just going back to them in the form of government checks.

Worse, much of it will go to the wealthy. Almost 12% of retirees collecting Social Security checks have incomes of $100,000 or above. A 2011 report by then-Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., found that millionaires were collecting $9 billion in retirement checks from the federal government.

A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that other giant middle-class entitlement – Medicare – results in “net transfers from the poor to the wealthy,” both because of how it’s paid for and the fact that wealthier retirees tend to live longer and spend more on health care.

Does anybody have any idea whether any of this massive wealth transfer machinery is worth it? Of course not. Big-government leftists like Biden just keep adding new programs on top of the old ones on the promise that the extra money will solve some problem or another. Plus, the more money the government redistributes, the greater control these leftists have over the populace. By taking an ever-larger share of people’s income, they can dictate how, when, and where people get their money back.

So, before another dime gets spent on “human infrastructure,” taxpayers should demand that the government account for all the money it’s already transferring from one taxpayer’s pocket to another.

Otherwise, we are truly doomed. As Alexis de Tocqueville warned, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.

— Written by the I&I Editorial Board

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The Issues and Insights Editorial Board has decades of experience in journalism, commentary and public policy.

9 comments

  • How disappointing that I&I views social security payments to retires that paid into the social security fund their whole lives as “middle class entitlements.” Most of my life, I paid in the maximum amount. If I had been give the freedom to save and invest that money on my own, I would be recieving far bigger monthly earnings on my investments than the social security payments that I currently recieve. Yes it was a wealth transfer, from me to fund a bloated federal government and real entitlement programs all those years.

    • Agreed. I pay dearly for my entitlement. It is interesting that I&I views $100,000 as wealthy. I am also paying dearly for surcharges on Medicare for having cashed in some lifetime savings & investments. The public should not live under the illusion that I am living off entitlements I don’t deserve. I worked hard, saved hard and deserve more than I am getting. I think my spouse and I each received $37 stimulus out of that $4.9 billion. You can call me a lot but wealthy would be a total misnomer.

    • Actually the money you sent in for SS isn’t coming close to what you have pulled out, same with all the ‘entitlements’, has been for years

    • SS is considered an entitlement because your contribution of payroll taxes during your working years now entitles you to some benefits. But your payroll taxes weren’t put in a piggybank awaiting your retirement. Instead, your taxes paid the SS benefits of others who had retired before you. By the same token, your SS benefits today are being paid by today’s workers who pay taxes. SS has been described as a Ponzi scheme, which it actually is. It is an inter-generational social contract, not a legal contract that would stand up in court.
      It’s possible that you could have done better investing your payroll taxes on your own. George Bush proposed something like this when he president, but the concept dropped like a lead balloon. Until the general public better understands your point, the concept will never gain adherents. And too many Americans probably lack the discipline or interest or ability to manage such an invested nest-egg. It’s all very unfortunate.

    • Social Security IS an entitlement. Where politicians get it wrong is with the use of the word entitlement. An entitlement is something that you’ve earned.
      Where they’d really get nervous is if people caught on and started looking at discretionary spending! That’s where the true waste of money is!

  • The quote on income transfer does NOT come from Biden’s 2022 budget plan, but in fact from 1994 document called “Historical Tables” by the United States Office of Management and Budget. That quote does not appear in ANY of Biden’s 2022 budget documents.

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