A government we can’t afford
In the Telegraph today, Janet Daley tries to explain the same thing I’ve been trying to explain here for, well, years.
Any political leader prepared to deceive the electorate into believing that government spending, and the vast system of services that it provides, can go on as before – or that they will be able to resume as soon as this momentary emergency is over – was propelled into office virtually by acclamation.
So universal has this rule turned out to be that parties and leaders who know better – whose economic literacy is beyond question – are now afraid even to hint at the fact which must eventually be faced. The promises that governments are making to their electorates are not just misleading: they are unforgivably dishonest. It will not be possible to go on as we are, or to return to the expectations that we once had. The immediate emergency created by the crash of 2008 was not some temporary blip in the infinitely expanding growth of the beneficent state. It was, in fact, almost irrelevant to the larger truth which it happened, by coincidence, to bring into view. Government on the scale established in most modern western countries is simply unaffordable. In Britain, the disagreement between Labour and the Conservatives over how to reduce the deficit (cut spending or increase borrowing?) is ridiculously insignificant and out of touch with the actual proportions of the problem.
Just as our debate here on what constitutes a "balanced approach" to cutting the deficit. The truly silly part of that debate is the demand that "the rich" pay more in taxes, as if that money would somehow close the gap in financing the welfare state. In France, the government wants a 75% tax rate, but…
Barack Obama knows that a tax rise of those proportions in the US would be politically suicidal, so he proposes a much more modest increase – an income tax rate of around 40 per cent on the highest earners sounds very modest indeed to British ears. But that is precisely the problem. If a tax rise is modest enough to be politically acceptable to much of the electorate, it will not produce anything like enough to finance the universal American entitlement programmes, social security and Medicare, into a future with an ageing population. There is no way that “taxing the rich” – that irresistibly glib Left-wing solution to everything – can make present and projected levels of government spending affordable.
Right now, mandatory entitlement spending alone is 62% of the Federal budget, and it will rise continuously under present law. At the same time, federal revenues don’t even cover the cost of those entitlements, plus interest payment on the national debt.
Think about that. We could eliminate the entire Federal Government except for entitlement spending and interest on the national debt, and we would still have to borrow money to pay for it.
The president’s proposal for increasing taxes on "the rich" would bring in an extra $40 billion dollars next year. So, instead of borrowing $1.1 Trillion next year, we’ll only have to borrow $1.06 Trillion. Somehow, we are told, this will be massively helpful.
Meanwhile, if interest rates return to their historic average levels the cost of debt service alone will rise from $250 billion per year to $750 billion per year.
But, really, anyone who isn’t as dumb as a bag of hammers already knows that the amount of government we have is unaffordable, simply by noting that we’ve increased the national debt from $1 trillion to $16.3 trillion since 1980. It took us 190 years to accumulate $1 trillion in debt. And 32 years to multiply it more than 15 times.
We have three choices. We can cut all Federal spending by half. We can have massive tax increases on the middle class. We can do nothing and eventually default/hyperinflate our monetary and financial system away.
Based on the politics of 2012, I assume it will be the latter.