In 2012, the United States is at the end of a decade-long experiment in borrowing money to push into the economy. Now each candidate for president would like for us to believe that he is going to put an end to this profligacy. We are told that this election presents voters with a stark choice between two very different visions of government: one that is active on behalf of its citizens, and one that gets out of the way. That’s true. Yet neither offers a credible way to stop borrowing money to pay for what he wants to do.
Instead, voters must choose between a Democrat with a detailed budget plan that can’t pass in Congress—and doesn’t really attempt to unwind the spending—and a Republican challenger with a budget plan that lacks details, can’t pass in Congress, and unwinds the spending with magic. Both candidates fear the public will punish anyone who takes away what has been given so freely for the last 10 years. Obama addresses this by not doing it. A best guess at Mitt Romney’s and Paul Ryan’s budgets shows that they will address this by pretending to do it. Both would have us continue to amass debt to enact their ideas of what the economy needs—tax cuts or investment. In that way, our stark choice is really between two different versions of large government.