I've got a new column up at Time's Ideas section. Here's the opening:
Forget a new car, Beats by Dre, or even affordable health care. You know what I really, really, really want for Christmas?
I want a government that spends less money. I'm not alone in such a wish. Even President Obama, who has asked for more and more spending in each of his annual budget proposals, has called the nation's long-term spending patterns "unsustainable."
We should be cutting small-ticket, medium-ticket, and big-ticket items, and we can do it in a way that doesn't kick out Tiny Tim's crutches or leaves us open to terrorist attacks. But first we need to understand the magnitude of the growth in spending over the past 10 years.
In 2003, the federal government shelled out about $2.2 trillion in nominal dollars. In 2013, it spent about $3.5 trillion. I have trouble figuring out exactly where that extra $1.3 trillion a year is going, but I do know that whatever money is spent by the generous souls in Washington, D.C. isn't printed by elves. It comes from current and future taxes that you and I—or our children and grandchildren—will pay. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections for the next 25 years, the government will never come close to matching outlays with revenues (which CBO already assumes will be significantly higher than the historical average for the past 40 years).
So the only path to sustainability is to cut spending. But where to cut?