Budget Deficit

Michael Kinsley's Right: This Can't Go On

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We're gonna need a bigger briefcase

Over at The Atlantic, Michael Kinsley looks at the United States' long-term fiscal outlook, and concludes that "The biggest peril Americans now face isn't Islamo-fascism. It's our own inability to live within our means." Excerpt:

I'm sitting here in a pile of reports and studies by think tanks, public-policy schools, the Office of Management and Budget, and self-appointed grandee fiscal crusaders. They all make the same, tiresomely familiar point: that this can't go on. […]

The Great Recession may have been a legitimate reason for putting off the day of reckoning—just as a cold may be a good reason to put off a necessary heart operation—but the cold doesn't cure your heart problem or eliminate the need for the operation. […]

There are a dozen ways to look at the national debt and the annual government deficit, and they all lead to varying degrees of panic. What's especially scary about our fiscal situation is that everybody knows the facts and concedes the implication, but nobody is doing anything about it […]

Do tell

And the national debt is just a fraction of the problem. State and local governments, unlike the national government in Washington, cannot print money, and many states have constitutions that forbid them to run a deficit. Nevertheless, they will be losing, together, about $140 billion this year. […]

Debt is everywhere you look. Here's a short inside piece in The New York Times Magazine about state and local unfunded pension obligations for retired employees. They add up to between $1 trillion and $3 trillion. Until that article, I had given no thought whatsoever to shortfalls in state employee pension funds. You?

Why, yes we have, again, and again, and again some more. And partly because we are not newcomers to either the pension crisis or broader long-term fiscal and economic mess, we have a list of proposed solutions that I think will work better for both the public purse and the private economy than Kinsley's half-hearted suggestions of an across-the-board estate tax and more rationing of end-of-life medical care.

You can see those suggestions–in 3-D!!–by subscribing today to Reason. Do it now, and you'll get our November "How to Slash Government Before it Slashes You" issue, complete with snazzily designed Reason.tv 3-D glasses, with which you'll also be able to watch related video content at your favorite video journalism website. Serious times call for serious horror iconography, and honest-to-God solutions for a problem most people consider intractable.

Kinsley link via Andrew Sullivan. More on state pensions below: