Free Markets, Free People

spending

Where the money goes

Once again, it’s time to look at the state of the Federal budget, and get our heads around how well—or badly—we’re doing as a republic. The short answer is…not well. Let’s take a look at a simple chart of the last full year of federal spending and receipts, which is Fiscal Year 2012. The chart is clickable, so you can see a full-sized version.

2012 Federal Budget

We spent $3,795.55 billion, while taking in $2,469 billion in taxes and receipts. That gave us a deficit for the year of $1.326.55 billion.

Much of the spending is required by law. Mandatory spending includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and retirement benefits for the military and federal workers. In addition, interest on the national debt of $227.73 billion must also be paid, by law. Overall, $2543.51 billion in spending was legally required. That’s 67% of all federal spending.

Keen observers will note that revenues of $2,469 billion do not cover that amount of mandatory spending. So, we missed being able to pay for required spending alone by by $74.51 billion. Essentially, we borrowed money to pay one-third of the interest on the money we’ve already borrowed.

Actually, we’re pretty lucky when it comes to the whole interest payments deal, because the average interest rate on the debt is hovering at around 2%.  Every additional percentage point in that interest rate translates to about $115 billion dollars in additional interest charges every year. If interest rates were to rise to the historical average of 6%, that would add about $575 billion per year to cost of servicing the debt. That would raise the annual debt service costs from $228 billion to $803 billion. That’s about $44 billion more than we currently pay for defense. So, let’s hope for a weak, struggling economy, right? Gotta keep those interest rates at historical lows.

Anyway, the remaining spending is all discretionary, so, we chose to spend another $1,252.53 billion in discretionary spending. $759.11 billion was spent on killing foreigners. Everything else the Federal Government does—all of the executive departments, science and medical research, the Judicial branch, and giving money to heathen foreigners to try and make them our friends—cost us $492.42 billion. Giving money to the heathen foreigners—also known as foreign aid—accounted for about $38 billion for the year, or 1% of federal spending.

So, what can we extrapolate about the future? Well, we know that, even if interest rates stay steady, mandatory spending on entitlements will rise as the huge population bolus that is the Baby Boom generation begin retiring. Without either significant new taxes and/or significant entitlement cuts, re. That means that, in the not-too-distant future, revenues will not cover even the cost of mandatory entitlement spending.

We can—and probably will—ameliorate this by slashing defense. It’s what the Europeans have done, after all. There’s this huge chunk of money that goes to defense, and it gives us a defense budget larger than the defense budgets of the next 19 largest nations combined. Obviously, we will be told, we’re acting like a bunch of paranoid maniacs, so we can cut defense by at least half, and still have a huge defense establishment in world terms. So, we got that going for us.

So, that’s the situation for FY 2012. In a couple of months, we’ll get a final accounting of FY 2013, and we’ll see where we stand. Revenues were significantly higher in 2013, and spending growth doesn’t appear to have kept pace, so the deficit probably fell to somewhere in the vicinity of $800 billion.

That’s progress, I guess, though one year does not make a trend. Let’s see how much Obamacare is gonna cost us next year, assuming it isn’t delayed because of all the fail.

Anyway, please feel free to show this spending chart to your ignorant friends.

UPDATE: Here’s a more detailed look at federal spending in 2012 by government function:

Government Function Amount (billions)
Social Security $778.574
National Defense $716.300
Income Security $579.578
Medicare $484.486
Health $361.625
Net Interest $224.784
Education, Training, Employment and Social Services $139.212
Veterans Benefits and Services $129.605
Transportation $102.552
Commerce and Housing Credit $79.624
Administration of Justice $62.016
International Affairs $56.252
Natural Resources and Environment $42.829
General Government $31.763
Community and Regional Development $31.685
General Science, Space and Technology $30.991
Energy $23.270
Agriculture $19.173
Allowances $0.125
Undistributed Offsetting Receipts $-98.897
TOTAL $3,795.547

These are total spending amounts by function, and include both mandatory and discretionary spending in each line item.


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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 03 Mar 13

This week, Michael and Dale discuss the sequester, Bob Woodward, and other things.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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.

~
Dale Franks
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Taxes, Spending, and the Fate of the Republic

The direction the country is taking bothers me. Increasingly, I see little hope for a bright prosperous future. Frankly, things cannot continue going in the direction they’re heading without a disastrous result.

Mark Steyn wrote earlier this week:

Generally speaking, functioning societies make good-faith efforts to raise what they spend, subject to fluctuations in economic fortune: Government spending in Australia is 33.1 percent of GDP, and tax revenues are 27.1 percent. Likewise, government spending in Norway is 46.4 percent, and revenues are 41 percent – a shortfall but in the ballpark. Government spending in the United States is 42.2 percent, but revenues are 24 percent – the widest spending/taxing gulf in any major economy.

This is unsupportable, by any measure, and should be seen to be so by anyone with common sense, irrespective of political party, but apparently is not. And it’s important to recognize that the reason revenues are at a historically high 24% of GDP—the historical average is around 18%—is that GDP growth for the last 4 years has been atrociously bad, and well below the 3% historical trend rate of growth.

In a rational world, we would make a decision to settle on a continuum somewhere between cutting government spending to 24% of GDP, and raising taxes to 42.2% of GDP, which would necessarily imply massive tax increases on the middle and, yes, even the lower class.

At the moment, however, it is impossible to cut spending to 24% of GDP. Not just politically impossible, though that appears to be true also, but I mean impossible impossible. The reason it is impossible is that 24% of current GDP will not cover the cost of mandatory entitlement spending and service on the national debt. More than 62% of government spending is mandatory spending on essentially social security and Medicare. Another 6% is interest on the national debt, and it’s only that low because 1) the Fed has been buying massive amounts of US treasury bonds, and 2) interest rates are historically low.

In other words, 68% of the federal budget is taken up by entitlements and debt service, alone. We could eliminate the entirety of the rest of the federal government and, at current rates of taxation, would still run a deficit.

At the current rate of spending, we can expect to add over $12 trillion dollars in debt over the next decade. To combat this, the president has requested an additional 1.6 trillion in new revenue, which he expects to gain by increasing tax rates on only the upper class. Even assuming, arguendo, that such a taxation plan would actually result in that much additional revenue—which it likely would not—we would still add an additional $10 trillion in debt.

And that, of course, assumes interest rates would not rise from their current low levels. A rise to the historical rates of interest would increase debt service costs from $250 billion per year to $650 billion per year, or approximately 15% of the budget.

Neither Congress nor the President are proposing a serious plan to balance the budget, which would require a politically impossible mix of massive budget/entitlement cuts, and/or massive tax increases on the middle and lower classes.

Absent such a plan, we will inevitably default on our debt, or hyperinflate our way out of it, both of which are merely two sides of the same coin. In either case, the dollar will lose its status as the world’s reserve currency, and the life savings of every single person in the country—except, perhaps, those embodied in some classes of hard asset—will be rendered worthless. There will be massive unemployment, and a high possibility of civil strife. Imported goods will essentially be unobtainable, and I’m not just talking about BMWs and Land Rovers, but everyday things we never even think about, like fresh fruit from Chile in the winter, or clothes from Singapore and Taiwan at any time.

The least damaging course of action would be a massive reduction in government spending. A more damaging course would be a massive increase in taxation. The most damaging course would be to do nothing but nibble at the edges of spending and taxation until we default, either formally, or de facto through hyperinflation. So far, we are set on the third course.

We are set on a path to completely destroy the currency and economic life of the Republic, and we will inevitably do so without massive tax increases, massive spending cuts, or some mixture of the two.

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, the Fiscal Cliff negotiations—by which I mean "farce"—continue. Personally, I’m a charter member of the Let It Burn club. The Democrats have set up a narrative in which, no matter what happens, Republicans will get the blame. And yet, 18 months ago, what we’re now calling the Fiscal Cliff was unilaterally hailed as a wise, bipartisan, and far-seeing compromise that would set the country on the road to financial rectitude. And quite frankly, the president is giving every indication that he wants to go over the Fiscal Cliff, and that he can weather the political and economic fallout from it.

OK. Then let’s test that theory.

This is not a risk-free strategy. As Ace of Spades points out:

The Walk Away/Let It Burn option is growing on people. One cautionary note, though: This will provoke a serious constitutional crisis and may undo the Republic. So a soft Let it Burn could turn into a genuine collapse of the Republic.

Obama is a tyrant. If Republicans do not lift the debt ceiling, it is perfectly obvious what he will do, as he’s argued for it before: Like Putin, he will begin unilaterally asserting power he doesn’t have.

And what will be the recourse? Court, I suppose. Impeachment, sure, but Democrats will block conviction. So whether or not the President can suddenly assert sweeping power over the purse — sweeping aside the last real check on his power granted to the House of Representatives — will depend on the vote of Justice Go Along to Get Along Roberts.

President Obama has already asked for it. It’s that one exception I mentioned before: He is asking for unilateral power to raise the debt ceiling and no president should ever have that power.

Our constitution is clear that the money bills must originate in the house. Equally clear is the principle of Congressional supremacy, in that Congress may pass laws even over a presidential veto.  The debt ceiling is clearly a Congressional, not a presidential prerogative.

Congress, of course, has already amended the Constitution’s strictures in practice. For instance, the Senate takes House bills, say, for building a dam, and strips the original language, then loads it up with budgetary items. The House accepts them in conference. Additionally, we have operated without a federal budget—though one is required annually by law—since 2009. This is a…constitutional novelty.

But giving unilateral budgetary power to the president goes far beyond novelty. In my view, granting this power to any president will mark the end of the Republic, just as surely as the creation of the First Triumvirate marked the death knell of the Roman Republic.

The American people elected President Obama. It is only right that they should reap the full measure of the consequences of that decision. Ace is right. Going over the Fiscal Cliff may undo the Republic. But if that is true, then I’m entirely unconvinced that the Republic should be saved.

~
Dale Franks
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Krugman–and now for a little statistical cherry picking

Paul Krugman poops out  a little blog post along with accompanying chart to ostensibly prove his point that austerity is the wrong way to go in Europe (and elsewhere).  He uses Estonia as his example because Estonia committed early to austerity measures.

 

060612krugman2-blog480

 

Says Krugman:

Since Estonia has suddenly become the poster child for austerity defenders — they’re on the euro and they’re booming! — I thought it might be useful to have a picture of what we’re talking about.

So, a terrible — Depression-level — slump, followed by a significant but still incomplete recovery. Better than no recovery at all, obviously — but this is what passes for economic triumph?

CATO guts him with a single chart that makes the point about cherry picking data:

estonia-role-model

 

Note where they are headed and note too that this is after rather heavy austerity measures were placed into effect.

It’s called a “recovery”, unlike what is happening here where money we don’t have has been poured down a Krugmanesque rat hole.  Estonia hit a bump in their road of growth, took austerity measures to right themselves and is on the path to full recovery (they still have more to do, but essentially, they’ve weathered the problem).

But you wouldn’t know that from Krugman’s chart would you?

CNBC tells the Estonia story:

Estonia’s achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider that it was one of the countries hardest hit by the global financial crisis. …How did they bounce back? “I can answer in one word: austerity. Austerity, austerity, austerity,” says Peeter Koppel, investment strategist at the SEB Bank. …that’s not exactly the message that Europeans further south want to hear. …Estonia has also paid close attention to the fundamentals of establishing a favorable business environment: reducing and simplifying taxes, and making it easy and cheap to build companies.

How much austerity?  A lot:

… Estonians have endured some of the harshest austerity measures with barely a murmur. They even re-elected the politicians that imposed them. “It was very difficult, but we managed it,” explains Economy Minister Juhan Parts. “Everybody had to give a little bit. Salaries paid out of the budget were all cut, but we cut ministers’ salaries by 20 percent and the average civil servants’ by 10 percent,” Parts told Global Post. …As well as slashing public sector wages, the government responded to the 2008 crisis by raising the pension age, making it harder to claim health benefits and reducing job protection — all measures that have been met with anger when proposed in Western Europe.

But, you know, austerity doesn’t work (and so it is very important, to the point of giving half the story, that spending freaks like Krugman present Estonia as a failure).

Daniel Mitchell points out:

Estonia reacted to the overspending and the downturn in a very responsible fashion. Instead of using the weak economy as an excuse to further expand the burden of government spending in hopes that Keynesian economics would magically work (after failing for Hoover and Roosevelt in the 1930s, Japan in the 1990s, Bush in 2008, and Obama in 2009), the Estonians realized that they needed to cut spending.

Look at Estonia’s chart (not Krugman’s version).  Look at ours.  Tell me again why deficit spending is the answer and the only answer, Mr. Krugman?

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

Greece goes cold turkey

And no, that’s not a joke about Turkey.  What you’re seeing in Greece is what you see in any drug rehab program … the results of withdrawal.  In this case, the addiction isn’t to heroin or cocaine, but other people’s money.  And Greece passed the tipping point of dependency years ago, decades ago.

But the money has finally run out and the addict doesn’t have the necessary money for the next fix.

Result?  Violence, denial and the refusal to accept the treatment.

More than 40 buildings were set ablaze in an orgy of looting that left scores injured as protesters vented their anger at the caretaker government and parliament’s ordering of a further €3.3bn of savings by slashing wages and pensions and laying off public sector workers.

[…]

But the scenes of mayhem on the streets of Athens and all across the country leave big questions unresolved regarding Greece’s capacity to stick with the savage austerity. The country is in its fifth year of recession and has little prospect of halting a steep decline in living standards.

[…]

Meanwhile street battles between police firing rounds of teargas and demonstrators hurling firebombs and marble slabs left Syntagma square, the plaza in front of the parliament building, resembling a war zone.

Rubbish bins burned and plumes of smoke and asphyxiating clouds of toxic chemicals filled the air.

The explosions were so loud, they could be heard inside parliament and the teargas drifting across square reached the debating chamber. The buildings that were set on fire included cinemas, banks and a number of shops, and Greek television reported that dozens of citizens and at least 40 police officers had been injured.

Why?  Because the caretaker parliament has, of necessity, tried to do what is necessary to return the country of Greece to fiscal sanity.  And that entails drastically reducing or eliminating decades of entitlements that the government granted but which was obvious the country couldn’t afford.   Among them:

Parliament backed drastic cuts in wages, pensions and jobs on Sunday as the price of a 130-billion-euro ($172 billion) bailout by the European Union and International Monetary Fund …

That included a roll back of Greece’s minimum wage.   This doesn’t settle anything though.  Although the vote was important, EU leaders are still not convinced that implementation will ever happen:

The EU welcomed the vote, but told Greece it had more to do to secure the funds and avoid a disorderly default next month that would have "devastating consequences."

Euro zone finance ministers meet on Wednesday, and the fragile ruling coalition of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos has until then to say how 325 million euros of the 3.3 billion euros in budget savings will be achieved.

A government spokesman said political leaders also had until Wednesday to give a written commitment that they will implement the terms of the deal, reflecting fatigue in Brussels over what EU leaders say have been a string of broken promises.

So this has turned into a series of attempts and votes and “guarantees” and failures leading to this latest attempt to keep Greece afloat – something the rest of Europe, according to reports, deems as critical.

There’s also a vote in April, a month after the demand that the deal agreed upon is scheduled to be implemented.  Many observers believe the vote will be driven to the extreme left or right by these events.  That, of course, would set up political polarization which will be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.  A preview of that problem was seen after this vote:

The leaders of two of the three major political parties in Prime Minister Lucas Papademos’s interim coalition government — the Socialists and the center-right New Democracy party — agreed on the new round of austerity after days of tense debate, maneuvering and threats. The leader of the third, the right-wing Popular Orthodox Rally, refused to endorse the measures and later withdrew from the coalition.

In the debate on Sunday night before the vote, Mr. Papademos appealed to lawmakers to do their “patriotic duty” and pass the measures, saying they would be saving Greece from bankruptcy in March, when a bond issue comes due that Greece cannot repay without foreign help.

In a sign of how the crisis has frayed the political order in Greece, the three leading political parties all moved swiftly to expel lawmakers who had broken ranks with leaders in the voting.

Although we’re likely to deny any applicability of the crisis there to our circumstances, our country is headed in the same direction, albeit later and more slowly.  But the end-state will be the same.  The difference is just a matter of degree, not design.  Greece is simply the first of many countries who’ve tried to redistribute income to support a socialist inspired lifestyle from a diminishing pool of workers. 

It is our future, if we don’t change our ways … drastically.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO

The Problem, and the False Solution

Mark Steyn makes an interesting—indeed, vitally important—point about government spending. The Left is always keen on telling us that we are under-taxed, or that the "rich" aren’t paying their fair share, or some such nonsense.  We’ve argues long and hard here that what we face is not a revenue problem, but a spending problem. Mr. Steyn pithily sums up an important bit of evidence for that assertion.

The total combined wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans is $1.5 trillion. So, if you confiscated the lot, it would barely cover one Obama debt-ceiling increase.

That’s really the problem in a nutshell. This week, the President asked for a $1.2 trillion debt increase.  We could pay for it, I suppose, by confiscating all the wealth of the Forbes 400, and have a nice $300 billion left over…but there won’t be too many people left that we can soak to cover the next debt ceiling increase. Also, as a point of academic interest, President Obama’s debt ceiling increase is $200 billion more than the entire national debt was in 1980.

To the extent we do have a revenue problem, perhaps it’s not that the rich pay too little, but rather that the poor do. 47% of American’s don’t pay any income tax at all. Which means that the "soak the rich" argument can really be boiled down to the 47% of Americans that don’t pay income taxes think the remaining 53% aren’t paying their fair share.

Well, someone isn’t, at any rate.

At the deepest levels within our governing structures, we are committed to living beyond our means on a scale no civilization has ever done. Our most enlightened citizens think it’s rather vulgar and boorish to obsess about debt. The urbane, educated, Western progressive would rather "save the planet," a cause which offers the grandiose narcissism that, say, reforming Medicare lacks.

And reforming Social Security, while we’re at it. Which we aren’t. And which, combined, will eat up the entire Federal budget in the not-too-distant future.

Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. It’d be great to have a first-class military, generous Medicare and Social Security benefits. Along with all the rest of the coddling state that supports in the grand manner to which we’ve become accustomed. But the future won’t allow us to be that generous. You see, we’re heading to a $16.5 trillion national debt, because, instead of being prudent with our money in order to meet all those future obligations, we blew it.

We spent money we didn’t have to build carrier groups and JDAMs, No Child left Behind and Medicare Part D. At the current rate, the federal government will, sometime this century, consist of a single department that does nothing but collect taxes and issue Social Security checks, because there won’t be one red cent left over for Defense, Justice, State, Commerce, Agriculture, or Treasury. And, we probably won’t be able to afford even that.

Mainly, because we won’t be able to produce much of anything.

Last January, the BBC’s Brian Milligan inaugurated the New Year by driving an electric Mini from London to Edinburgh, taking advantage of the many government-subsidized charge posts en route. It took him four days, which works out to an average speed of 6 mph — or longer than it would have taken on a stagecoach in the mid-19th century. This was hailed as a great triumph by the environmentalists. I mean, c’mon, what’s the hurry?

What indeed? In September, the 10th anniversary of a murderous strike at the heart of America’s most glittering city was commemorated at a building site: The Empire State Building was finished in 18 months during the Depression, but in the 21st century the global superpower cannot put up two replacement skyscrapers within a decade.

The 9/11 memorial museum was supposed to open on the 11th anniversary, this coming September. On Thursday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced there is "no chance of it being open on time." No big deal. What’s one more endlessly delayed, inefficient, over-bureaucratized construction project in a sclerotic republic?

This is—as hard as it may be to believe—the same country that, in 1940, had an army smaller than Rumania, and by 1945, had the military power to, had we wanted, rule the globe. Now, we’re the country that can’t replace the World Trade Center in 10 years. This is not emblematic of a can-do country with the willingness to attack and solve problems with a vengeance.

But the president thinks that if we can only tax millionaires more, we can fix this place up quick.

~
Dale Franks
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The tyranny of numbers (Updated)

Let me see if I can quantify the current and future budget situation.  It’s actually quite simple, and doesn’t require knowledge of anything other than elementary mathematics. The most recent analysis of the Federal government’s unfunded liabilities, to include the national debt, debt financing, Social Security, and Medicare, showed total unfunded liabilities of $61.6 trillion. I’ve seen substantially higher numbers in other analyses—up to $75 trillion, depending on how you score it—but let’s take this fairly conservative one.  What are the practical implications of this number?

Let’s see what we’d have to do to pay all that back in 30 years. I picked that length of time because a) it covers the entire span of Baby Boomer retirements, and b) it equals the longest maturity of any Federal debt instrument,  the 30-Year Note.

Let’s look at the rounded numbers, derived from the Statistical Abstract of the United States. In fiscal 2010, GDP was $14.63 trillion.  Of that $2.165 trillion was collected in Federal revenue, or 14.8% of GDP. $61.6 trillion, paid over 30 years, will require equal installments of $2.05 trillion every year.

Now we’ll make some assumptions.  Let’s assume that we get 2% growth this year, and that for the next 29 years, we get an average of 3% growth in both GDP and in tax revenues collected. We also have to assume that the US Government doesn’t run a deficit, or add and more to the national debt between now and 2041. And let’s even assume that the current 14.8% of GDP we’re currently collecting in revenues doesn’t rise to the the historical 17.8% average, and that we can fund the government on just revenues of 14.8% of GDP.

Finally, let’s remember that most revenue that has ever been collected in all of American history, as a percentage of GDP, was 20.6% in 1999, after a substantial economic boom. Prior to that was 1945’s 20.4%.

In order to pay off this year’s share of the $61.6 trillion in unfunded liabilities, the government will have to collect $4.261 trillion in revenues.  With an estimated 2011 GDP of $14.922 trillion, that comes to 28.6% of GDP. If we assume government revenues rise to the historical average, the we’ll need the government to take 31.6% of GDP in tax revenues. Happily, because we’re assuming a 3% rise in GDP and revenues for every year over the next 30 years, that percentage will decline slightly every year, until, in 2041, we’ll only need to collect 20.5% of GDP in tax revenues to pay off the last installment, assuming, again, 14.8% of GDP covers the operation of government.  If we go back to the 17.8% figure, then we’ll have to collect 23.5% of GDP in revenues.

Either way, for the next 30 years, we need to collect substantially higher tax revenues than we have collected at any time in the nation’s history, and we have to do it every year for 30 years.

Quite frankly, I doubt that this is even physically possible, much less politically possible. Quite apart from anything else, I have no confidence whatsoever that we will even have 3% GDP growth under a regime where more than one-quarter of national income is given to the government for the next decade.

If you want to see the year-by-year numbers, my Excel worksheet is here.

~
Dale Franks
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UPDATE: A commenter points out that http://www.usdebtclock.org/ shows a total unfunded liability of $114 trillion. I believe that figure goes out to the year 2087, however. But, those calculations wouldn’t look that much different for individual years. We’d just have to support unsustainable taxes for 70 years instead of 30. Not that it matters, ‘cause we won’t do it anyway.

BTW, keep in mind that these numbers are just a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation to wrap our heads around the basic scope of the problem, not a precise model of government expenditures and revenues for the next 30 years. I wasn’t really interested in doing 20 hours of math for a 15-paragraph blog post, after all.

Observations: The QandO Podcast for 17 Apr 11

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss this week’s battles over the budget.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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Observations: The QandO Podcast for 23 Jan 11

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss the sudden end of Kieth Olberman’s “Countdown”, the Republicans’ proposals to cut government spending, state bankrupties, and much more.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2010, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

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