Meanwhile, counting both official debt and unfunded pension and health‐care liabilities, the most indebted nation in Europe is Greece, which owes 875 percent of GDP. That’s right, the United States potentially owes more than Greece. France, the second most insolvent nation in Europe, owes just 549 percent of GDP. Even under the most optimistic scenario, we owe more than such fiscal basket cases as Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.
So far we have been able to avoid the consequences of our profligate ways because the very public turmoil in Europe has helped prop us up as the world’s safe haven for foreign investment. Compared to the euro’s problems, the dollar looks pretty safe. This means that others are still willing to lend us money at absurdly low rates. But that won’t last forever. In fact, already seven European countries, including Germany and Sweden, have better credit ratings than the U.S.
Perhaps we can take some solace in the fact that our welfare state is not yet as big as Europe’s. But the key word here is “yet.” Today, our federal government spends more than 24 percent of GDP. Throw in state and local spending, and government at all levels consumes over 43 percent of everything produced in this country over the course of a year. As bad as that is, it’s still less than Europe, where the average of government spending at all levels is slightly more than 50 percent of GDP. But the Congressional Budget Office projects that federal‐government spending in this country is currently on a path to exceed 42 percent of GDP by 2050. Government spending at all levels will exceed 59 percent of GDP. And CBO assumes state and local spending will decline in the future, which seems unlikely.
By way of comparison, today, Ireland is the only country in Europe with a bigger government than the U.S.’s will be in 2050. That’s right, one can look at countries like France and Greece, or even Denmark and Sweden, and realize that we will eventually have bigger governments than those quintessential welfare states have today.
At that point does the United States cease being the United States as we have known it? At the very least, can our economy survive such a crushing burden of government spending, and its attendant level of taxes and debt?
Given this looming disaster, President Obama has just submitted a budget that explicitly rejects “austerity,” avoids any reform of Medicare or Social Security, and adds some $7 trillion to the national debt over the next ten years. And Republicans? They are busy debating the pros and cons of birth control.
What is wrong with this picture?