US Budget Deficit: Enjoying the Ride on the Road to Ruin
Let’s focus on the good news. Well, our first item is good news if you were fool enough to follow our “Trade of the Decade.”
We suggested that buying Japanese stocks could be the best investment you can make in the next 10 years. We immediately heard from dozens of friends and enemies. The friends were concerned because they thought we’d made a bad bet. Enemies were delighted that we’d lost our grip completely. After all, they remarked, who in his right mind would buy Japanese stocks?
Well hardee, har, har… Guess what market is leading the world so far this year? That’s right… Japan. (Here, colleague Alex Green explains why Japan hasn’t been such a bad bet after all.)
We’re six weeks into the new decade, we’ll claim victory now…and change the subject. Who knows what will happen in the next 514 weeks.
Meanwhile, here comes more good news: the US federal government may not go broke after all. Rep. Paul Ryan, who hails from the sovereign state of Wisconsin, has come up with a solution.
Before we get to the solution, however, let us take a minute to describe the problem. In short, the feds are spending too much money they don’t have. The Obama administration says it doesn’t see any balanced budgets anywhere in America’s future. The Congressional Budget Office, a far-sighted group if ever there was one, looks all the way to 2080. It sees no hint of fiscal equilibrium either. Just deficits and debt. By its estimate the US budget grows to 50% of GDP and the official US debt rises to 7 times GDP.
This exercise by the CBO is not a forecast. It is merely an extrapolation. If present trends continue, that is where we would end up by the time your author is 131 years old. Of course, there is no way present trends could continue that long. Even at 2 times GDP…debt cannot be sustained. It would cost more than half of all America’s tax revenues to the pay the interest on such a large debt. Already, depending on how things go in the economy, as much as 30% of the money borrowed by the US could soon be necessary just to pay the cost of past borrowing.
Fortunately, Mr. Ryan has a solution. He calls it a “Roadmap for America’s Future.” After studying it for all of 30 seconds, we’re convinced that Mr. Ryan should get a GPS. His roadmap is a series of squiggles, dodges and twists to US tax laws…along with a few torques to the spending side too… that leads the country to a dead end. Most of his effort has been concentrated on bringing health care outlays under control. No effort is made, on the other hand, to cut military spending. Typical. Weak, limp, pusillanimous. The benefits now; the costs later. That’s why America’s residual respect for Congress is just about exhausted. The institution is incapable of correcting its own mistakes. Instead, it just makes them worse. Even with Mr. Ryan’s roadmap, America drives in the wrong direction for the next half a century. It is only sometime after 2050 that the federal budget deficits finally stop.
Any solution that doesn’t pay off until we’re all dead is no solution at all. It’s a way of avoiding a solution…which is what Congress desperately wants to do. A real solution will come. But not from Congress. Instead, it will come unbidden. And unwelcome. Like the plague.
At least, that’s our reading of history. Once the system tips out of control it stays out of control until it finally blows itself up.
It would be fairly easy to get the budget under control…that is, if there were no political system to prevent you. The US government shouldn’t be in the business of giving out drugs or regulating heart transplants. It also shouldn’t be in the business of telling the rest of the world what to do. The solution is simple: abandon the imperial agenda…let people take care of themselves, both at home and abroad…and downsize the federal government.
But that is not going to happen. We may be on the road to ruin…but too many people are enjoying the ride. We’re not going to stop any time soon. More than 40 million people on food stamps…thousands of military contractors…millions of government employees… People who want the government (other citizens) to pay for their gall bladder operations. People who pay no taxes. GM executives. AIG bondholders. University administrators. Lobbyists.
It is a wholly rational and completely foreseeable trend. People always seek to improve their wealth and status in the easiest way possible. What’s the easiest way? Take wealth from someone else. That’s why criminals are still in business…after thousands of years of trying to stop them.
But common criminals lack status – except in the ghetto. So, the smarter, better connected and better educated of their ilk go into government. Or they use government for their own ends. That way, they get other peoples’ money. But they also get respectability…even an elevated social status.
Congress is supposed to confront the problems of the nation…and solve them. But with more people getting something from the government than supporting it, Congress is not likely to change course. It responds to the perverse will of the people…and to its own corrupt predilections. We are all victims of democracy now…
The government grows…deficits become unstoppable…and the empire sinks under the weight of so many parasites.