From the hustings and the airwaves this campaign season, America's political class can be heard debating Capitol Hill sex scandals, the wisdom of the war in Iraq and which party is tougher on terror. Democrats and Republicans talk of cutting taxes to make life easier for the American people.
What they don't talk about is a dirty little secret everyone in Washington knows, or at least should. The vast majority of economists and budget analysts agree: The ship of state is on a disastrous course, and will founder on the reefs of economic disaster if nothing is done to correct it.
There's a good reason politicians don't like to talk about the nation's long-term fiscal prospects. The subject is short on political theatrics and long on complicated economics, scary graphs and very big numbers. It reveals serious problems and offers no easy solutions. Anybody who wanted to deal with it seriously would have to talk about raising taxes and cutting benefits, nasty nostrums that might doom any candidate who prescribed them.
Their basic message is this: If the United States government conducts business as usual over the next few decades, a national debt that is already $8.5 trillion could reach $46 trillion or more, adjusted for inflation. That's almost as much as the total net worth of every person in America —
Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and those Google guys included.
A hole that big could paralyze the U.S. economy; according to some projections, just the interest payments on a debt that big would be as much as all the taxes the government collects today.
And every year that nothing is done about it, Walker says, the problem grows by $2 trillion to $3 trillion.
It always struck me as a bit rich when the politicians who voted for "Bankruptcy reform" talked about fiscal irresponsibility. The bad thing is this mess has been building for years along with a crushing "debt" of future bills. Between our neglected infrastructure and looming demographic crises we are going to have a devil of a time paying on, much less paying down, the National credit card.