Budget Debt
The US Government spends about $3.7T a year and generates revenues of about $2.5T a year. A $1.2T annual deficit in 2012. In the last two years, Sequestration cuts and increased revenues have reduced the deficit. Now that Obamacare is underway, forecasts skyrocket for budget deficits. If anyone wants to know why we have a budget problem in this country, all you have to do is look at the running debt clock. We are now at $17T in debt.! But, if big numbers alone don't get your attention, then lets put the $17T in perspective, it represents over 100% of GDP. The nation owed $10.6 trillion on Jan. 20, 2009, when President Obama was sworn in, and he has added another $5.4 trillion since – more than Bush piled up in two terms. There is bipartisan agreement that we cannot sustain this level of debt. There is also bipartisan agreement that we must correct the outflows exceeding inflows that drives the debt higher every second (see debt clock) . Everyone who manages a checkbook has seen this problem before and knows how to correct it - reduce expenses and increase income. Increasing revenues is critical to the solution, but will not have an immediate impact. Reducing expenses is also critical to the solution and can generate immediate impact. It is the only thing in your control instantly! Everything else we here about this subject beyond these two facts is just noise and should be ignored. The political left and right cannot agree on how to correct this problem. Doing something is also better than doing nothing, which is what this stalemate is giving us now. The left solution to our problem is to increase taxes on the rich to increase income. Currently the top 20% of income earners pays 80% of the federal tax burden. So do we want them to pay 100%? 110%? 120%? Maybe just write the check every year for the entire cost of government, whatever it is? Clearly this is not the solution. The right wants us to reduce spending and taxes, which is also a poor solution in a recessionary economy. But the truth is we must do both (reduce expenses and increase income), we must do it now and it will not be easy. All the political hot air outside these two facts is simply a distraction from the difficult but obvious answer. Europe is going through this right now and they are struggling mightily with the anticipated pain of the solution that in their hearts they know is necessary. To increase income we must immediately restructure the tax code to foster a growing economy. A growing economy will increase income (tax revenues for the government) over the next 10 years, but not immediately, this is a delayed impact. To immediately begin to impact our budget and debt problem whiling anticipating increased revenues we also must immediately and dramatically cut spending. That MUST include discretionary spending AND entitlements which represent 90% of the problem. The left will say you are hurting education, the homeless, healthcare of all Americans, the elderly and on and on. The right will shout "we are already taxed enough". All This whining MUST be ignored. No one wants to hurt themselves, their families or their neighbors We have no choice but to intelligently make these difficult decisions while minimizing the pain. But there will be pain. And our representatives MUST ACT NOW. It is a dereliction of duty if they do not. Below you can watch the ongoing debate on this critical issue. And hopefully see the solution we need develop.

The United States of Insolvency

by James Grant,
from TIME Magazine,

$13,903,107,629,266. Can the nation afford this much debt?

This much I have learned about debt after 40 years of writing and study: It is better not to incur it. Once it is incurred, it is better to pay it off. America, we have a problem.

We owe more than we can easily repay. We spend too much and borrow too much. Worse, we promise too much. We conjure dollar bills by the trillions–pull them right out of thin air. I won’t insist that this can’t go on, because it has. I only say that it will eventually stop. I don’t know the date, but I believe that I know the reason. It will stop when the world loses confidence in the dollars we owe. Come that moment of truth, the nation will resemble Chicago, a once prosperous polity now trying to persuade its once trusting creditors that it is actually solvent.

To understand our financial fix, put yourself in the position of the government. Say you earn the typical American family income, and you spend and borrow as the government does. So assuming, you would earn $54,000 a year, spend $64,000 a year and charge $10,000 to your already slightly overburdened credit card. I say slightly overburdened–your outstanding balance is about $223,000. Of course, MasterCard wouldn’t allow you to run up that kind of tab. At an annual percentage rate of 15%, the cost to service a $223,000 balance would absorb 62% of your pretax income. But the government is different from you and me (and Chicago). It has a central bank. The Federal Reserve is the government’s Monopoly-money machine. It sets some interest rates and influences many others. It materializes dollars. It regulates–now regiments–the nation’s banks. It pulls levers to make the stock market go up. Congress is the source of the Fed’s power. The Constitution is the source of Congress’s power. The parchment enjoins Congress to coin money and regulate the value thereof. The founders viewed money as a scale or yardstick, something that measures value. The Fed views money as a magic wand, something that creates value.

You may struggle to pay that midteens rate on your outstanding credit-card balance. The Treasury gets by paying an average of just 1.8% on that portion of the debt, held by savers and investors both here and abroad. Defined in this way, we owe $13.9 trillion. The $19 trillion figure ticking upward on the famous National Debt Clock adds the debts the government owes itself. (How does this pseudo bookkeeping work? The Social Security Administration takes in–temporarily–more than it pays out. With the surplus it buys Treasury bonds. The bonds enlarge the debt clock’s debt.) It’s not so important that the government pays itself on time. What is important is that the government pay its public creditors on time. So cast your eyes on the exact numerical rendering of that slightly smaller sum: $13,903,107,629,266. It is unmanageable.

From the nation’s 18th century founding until 1971, the dollar was defined as a weight of gold or silver. Americans did business with paper, of course. But these commercial bills and banknotes were convertible into monetary bedrock, the precious metals. The expression sound as a dollar derives from the ring of a gold piece when you plunked it on a counter. Sound money coincided with balanced budgets. Government borrowings climbed in wartime and subsided in peacetime. The pattern was disarranged by depression in the 1930s and war in the 1940s. It was broken by the Johnson Administration’s guns and butter and entitlements programs in the 1960s. Richard Nixon administered the coup de grâce on Aug. 15, 1971, when he announced that the dollar would derive its value from the say-so of the government. The Fed could print as many green bills as the traffic would bear.

Easy money rarely fails to please–at first. It buoys stocks, bonds and commercial real estate. House prices jump, and car sales zoom. (Average auto-lending rates, now 4%, have been nearly sawed in half since 2007.) Politicians, noticing how a bull market fattens public pension funds, ratchet up the benefits they promise to retirees (a fact that state and federal pensioners are encouraged to remember on Election Day). Periodically, the buzz wears off. What remains is a hangover of debts and promises. The proliferating dollars facilitate heavy borrowing. Ultra-low interest rates mask the cost.

Crises and business cycles are always with us. I merely observe that sound money and a balanced budget were two sides of the coin of American prosperity. Then came magical thinking. Maybe you had a taste of modern economics in school. If so, you probably learned that the federal budget needn’t be balanced–it’s nothing like a family budget, the teacher would say–and that gold is a barbarous relic. To manage the business cycle, the argument went, a government must have the flexibility to print money, to muscle around interest rates and to spend more than it takes in–in short, to “stimulate.” Oh, we have stimulated. Between the fiscal years 2008 and 2012 alone, federal deficits totaled $5.6 trillion. The public debt nearly doubled in the same span of years, to $11.2 trillion. The Federal Reserve tickled $1.6 trillion in new digital dollars into existence. True, our Great Recession proved no Great Depression, but the post-2008 recovery is the limpest on record.

A thin cheer went up in January when the deficit (calculated over the 12 preceding months) weighed in at a mere $405 billion, the lowest over any 12-month period since 2008. Only $405 billion. It’s not so much, as Washington strums its calculators.

It’s a measure of the fix we’re in that the billions hardly seem worth talking about.

It’s tomorrow’s trillions–the ones we’ve grandly promised to pay ourselves–that lie at the heart of the problem. The granddaddy of far-off commitments was Social Security, which dates from the 1930s. Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s and the Affordable Care Act in 2010 duly followed. The debt, as big as it is, is the measure of past spending in excess of tax receipts, a pattern of bad fiscal habits that traces its intellectual roots to John Maynard Keynes and has its dollars-and-cents origins with Lyndon Johnson and his Great Society. What awaits us and our children and their children is the unpaid tab of the future.

In 2007, we owed $5 trillion and paid an average interest rate of 4.8%. Net interest expense: $237 billion. In 2016 we’ll owe $14.1 trillion and pay the average interest rate I already mentioned: 1.8%. Net interest expense: $240 billion. Debt per se is neither good nor bad, though less is usually better than more. How it’s priced and how it’s used are what tips the scales.

The public debt will fall due someday. (Some of it falls due just about every day.) It will have to be repaid or refinanced. If repaid, where would the money come from? It would come from you, naturally. The debt is ultimately a deferred tax. You can calculate your pro rata obligation on your smartphone. Just visit the Treasury website, which posts the debt to the penny, then the Census Bureau’s website, which reports the up-to-the-minute size of the population. Divide the latter by the former and you have the scary truth: $42,998.12 for every man, woman and child, as I write this. In the short term, the debt would no doubt be refinanced, but at which interest rate? At 4.8%, the rate prevailing as recently as 2007, the government would pay more in interest expense–$654 billion–than it does for national defense. At a blended rate of 6.7%, the average prevailing in the 1990s, the net federal-interest bill would reach $913 billion, which very nearly equals this year’s projected outlay on Social Security.

How do we escape from our self-constructed fiscal jail? According to the Government Accountability Office, unpaid taxes add up to more than $450 billion a year. Even so, according to the Tax Foundation, Americans spend 6.1 billion hours and $233.8 billion each tax season complying with a federal tax code that runs to 10 million words. Are we quite sure we want no part of the flat-tax idea? An identical low rate on most incomes. No deductions, no H&R Block. Impractical? So is the debt. So is the spending (and the promises to spend more down the road). We need to stop the squandermania. How?

... really examine the stub of their paycheck. Observe how much your employer pays you and how much less you take home. Notice the dollars withheld for Medicare, Social Security and so forth. If you are like most of us, you stopped looking long ago. You don’t miss the income that you never get to touch. I propose a slight alteration in payday policy. Let each wage-earning citizen hold the whole of his or her untaxed earnings–actually touch them. Then let the government pluck its taxes.

is entirely legal and if it were universally adopted, in six months we would have either a tax revolution or a startling contraction of the budget!” Black ink, sound money and [pay your own taxes] are the way forward. “Make America solvent again” is my credo and battle cry. You can fit it on a cap.

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