There’s Nothing “Clean” About a “Clean” Debt Ceiling Increase

US national debt“House Democrats,” CBS News reports, “have taken their first procedural steps to try to force a House vote on a clean debt ceiling increase.” Absent such an increase, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen predicts the government will reach the end of its ability to borrow money as early as June 1.

What does a “clean” increase mean? It means no politician has to give up anything. Nobody on Capitol Hill or at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has to make any sacrifices. Congress just votes to increase the limit on a very special credit card, spent by it but billed to taxpayers (including future unborn generations).

It seems like magic. But, of course, magic isn’t real. And there’s nothing “clean” about the proposed debt ceiling increase. It’s a filthy scam played on Americans by politicians who believe — or at least hope — they’ll be retired or dead before the winds of reality blow down the house of cards they’re building.

And the silliest part is that it isn’t even remotely necessary — not even if the standard is “spend enough to continue having insanely large, burdensome, and intrusive government.”

“Clean debt ceiling raise” advocates insist that opposition to a rubber stamp on the government continuing to grow its spending faster than its revenues every year, forever, and continuing to borrow larger amounts of money every year than the year before, forever, is some kind of Dickensian scheme to steal grandma’s gruel, chain little Jimmy to a machine in a factory, and reduce the size and equipment of the US armed forces to that of a local Cub Scout troop.

But let’s look at some numbers.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, the US government took in revenues of about $2.5 trillion and spent about $3.5 trillion in 2019.

Also according to OMB, the US government will take in revenues of about $3.5 trillion and will spend about $4.6 trillion this year.

Why am I leaving out the years in between? Because the COVID-19 pandemic provided at least a fig leaf of “emergency” justification for running large deficits and borrowing lots of money. Now that the pandemic is officially over, it’s time to stop playing “emergency” games.

If the US government limited itself to spending THIS year what it spent in 2019, its budget would be balanced.

Not what it spent in 1819.

Not what it spent in 1919.

What it spent four short years ago, when it was still bogged down in the 20-year Afghanistan war and blowing money like a drunken sailor on frippery like Donald Trump’s “border wall.”

Not that Republicans propose anything as draconian as, you know, spending less than they take in. They just want slight decreases in the acceleration of fiscal stupidity. But that might be a start.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Smokey Versus the Market

Burt’s Place brought the star’s red-white-and-blue style to the Omni International complex in Atlanta. Photo by Acroterion. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Is “cutthroat economic libertarianism” force-feeding Americans a “homogenized corporate culture?”  New York Times opinion columnist Matthew Walther thinks so (“Shopping for ‘Woke-Free’ Beer? Read This,” May 1).

Walther correctly notes that current culture wars over beer brands like Bud Light have largely ignored how many of them are owned by a handful of larger companies — and how all of them operate in a larger marketplace dominated by “generic large-scale corporate profit-seeking.” But is this really “economic libertarianism?”

Walther observes that in the less consolidated industry of the 1970s, regional brewer Coors had real clout to enforce its owners’ union-busting conservatism despite being shunned by “respectable middle-class liberal social circles.” True enough, but the Coors-hauling outlaws of Smokey and the Bandit aren’t so tidily relegated to the same “right-wing” extreme.

After all, the Burt Reynolds vehicle wasn’t the only 1977 blockbuster in which rural restlessness and speedy smuggling defies domineering, corrupt authorities. Yet the Galactic Empire of Star Wars was inspired by the administration of the same Richard Nixon whom the Coors family considered a “squish”  (meanwhile, the outlaw truckers on the Seventies screen were a nod to real-life convoys at odds with union bosses not for “feckless paternalism” but for compromising negotiations with plain old bosses).

The distrust of culinary as well as cultural homogenization was less a forerunner of the here’s-the-beef presidency of Coors favorite Ronald Reagan than an echo of the hippies busted for improper disposal of a communal meal in Alice’s Restaurant — or, for that matter, a parallel to the peanut seller then in the Oval Office decriminalizing homebrews.

Walther borrows the name of the 1980 book Human Scale by Kirkpatrick Sale to denote the antithesis of the globalized economy. Yet Sale’s less-remembered-than-its-title tome argued that the “growth of conglomerates and ogliopolies” would be halted if “the myriad government supports favoring large (and therefore largely unresponsive) businesses were withdrawn.”

The impersonality of commerce might seem to make the pursuit of any value system an exercise in futility. While Anheuser-Busch’s all-Americanism is diluted by the merger with Belgian Interbrew and Brazilian AmBev, groovy Ben & Jerry’s has been gobbled up by the equally multinational Unilever.  Even the “staid Midwestern brands” and built-in-the-USA autos which Walther recalls as having been the acceptable alternatives to the Coors can and the “foreign car” were built from the raw materials of a worldwide market.

Yet the very tendency to enmesh consumers into webs more far-flung than they can trace is in fact a strength. As Milton Friedman put it: “The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.”

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


  1. “Smokey Versus the Market” by Joel Schlosberg, CounterPunch, May 5, 2023
  2. “Smokey versus the market” by Joel Schlosberg, Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman [Wasilla, Alaska], May 5, 2023
  3. “Smokey versus the market” by Joel Schlosberg, The Times and Democrat [Orangeburg, South Carolina], May 11, 2023

Anti-Immigrationists Dance in Texas Blood to Deliver False Lesson

ICE ERO Dallas Targeted Enforcement Operation - 50044961867

“White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Monday discussed the brutal slaying of five people in Texas,” the New York Post whines, “without noting the fugitive accused of the heinous crime is an illegal immigrant who had previously been deported four times.”

Francisco Oropesa, the subject of a continuing manhunt as I write this, allegedly murdered several of his neighbors after they complained about his noisy behavior (shooting in his back yard while intoxicated).

What does Oropesa’s immigration status have to do with anything? I’m tempted to say “nothing,” but on further thought this strikes me as a teachable moment.

The usual suspects, of course, want us to take this incident as confirmation that “illegal” immigration is an inherently terrible thing, and that the US government needs to dramatically increase its funding ($25 billion is the number in president Joe Biden’s 2023 budget request) and manpower (more than 40,000 government employees between the US Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement) dedicated to “immigration enforcement.”

The REAL lesson is that throwing tens of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of people at “immigration enforcement,” turning a 100-mile strip around the edges of the United States into a “constitution-free” zone where native and immigrants alike are subjected to warrantless searches and other predatory government behavior, and abducting and deporting people multiple times:


Nor is it about to suddenly, magically START working.

The borders of the United States have always been open (by constitutional mandate until the late 1800s, when the Supreme Court decided to start ignoring the Constitution and just let Congress do whatever it felt like).

The borders of the United States are open now. People who want to get in, get in. Some of them are abducted and deported. And those who still want to be here get BACK in.

The borders of the United States will always be open. With 95,500 miles of border and coastline, “securing the border” wouldn’t be an option even if the government put every member of the US armed forces, plus every state and local cop, on nothing but the business of “securing the border.”

Our choices are:

  1. Open borders; or
  2. Open borders AND a $25-billion, 40,000-guard, 100-mile-wide police state dedicated to the preposterous claim that we can have something other than open borders.

Pick one.

Either way,  Oropoesa’s victims remain exactly as dead as they would be if he was from Peoria.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.