How to Stop Politicians From Cooking the Books



The federal government ran budget surpluses from 1998 to 2001. Yet the national debt went up in every one of those four years. How can debt go up when you’re running surpluses? Easy, borrow the surpluses then flowing into the Social Security Trust Fund and call it income. Any corporate CEO who tried this stunt would go to jail. But no CEO would try because Wall Street made such boldface accounting fraud impossible more than a century ago.


How can we stop politicians from so casually lying to their stockholders (you and me) for their own short-term political benefit and to the country’s long-term financial detriment? What’s needed is the equivalent of the reforms forced on corporations 140 years ago.

One justification for the Federal Reserve is to keep the power to print money out of the hands of politicians. A Federal Accounting Board would keep the power to cook the books out of their hands as well. Like the Fed, it would be run by a board of seven members, all professional accountants of long experience, serving 14-year terms. They could be removed only for cause. One member would be appointed chairman, serving a four-year term.

The board would take over the duties of the Congressional Budget Office, and the White House Office of Management and Budget would be reduced to formulating the annual budget. The board would estimate future revenue and the costs of all legislation. It would also set the rules for how the federal books must be kept (no calling borrowed money “income”), and would determine if they are accurate and complete, as a CPA does for corporate books.

Author(s): John Steele Gordon

Publication Date: 12 September 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

A National Disgrace



The Budget Control Act of 1974 is the most misnamed congressional act in American history. Far from “controlling” anything, its passage caused the federal budget process to spin out of control. In the six years preceding the act, with the Vietnam War raging, annual deficits averaged $11.3 billion. In the first six years after the Budget Control Act, with the war over, they averaged $54 billion.

What happened? The Budget Control Act cut the president out of the budget process by removing his political leverage, leaving Congress in near-total control of the budget. Congressmen have a strong incentive to bring home the bacon, both to their voters and, increasingly, to their donors. Logrolling—you vote for my project and I’ll vote for yours—is, all too often, how Congress works.

Before 1920, there was no unified budget process. Executive departments simply submitted their budget requests directly to Congress. What kept spending under control was a strong political consensus across both parties that the budget should be balanced if at all possible. That idea only began to erode in the 1960s, with a misuse of Keynesian theory.

Author(s): John Steele Gordon

Publication Date: 19 February 2021

Publication Site: City Journal