To keep our debt/GDP ratio below the metaphorical combustion point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, these studies (when averaged) suggest that we need to cut spending or raise taxes by 11% of GDP and rather quickly over the next five to 10 years. An 11% “fiscal gap” in terms of today’s economy speaks to a combination of spending cuts and taxes of $1.6 trillion per year! To put that into perspective, CBO has calculated that the expiration of the Bush tax cuts and other provisions would only reduce the deficit by a little more than $200 billion. As well, the failed attempt at a budget compromise by Congress and the President – the so-called Super Committee “Grand Bargain”– was a $4 trillion battle plan over 10 years worth $400 billion a year. These studies, and the updated chart “Ring of Fire – Part 2!” suggests close to four times that amount in order to douse the inferno.
And to draw, dear reader, what I think are critical relative comparisons, look at who’s in that ring of fire alongside the U.S. There’s Japan, Greece, the U.K., Spain and France, sort of a rogues’ gallery of debtors (see chart below). Look as well at which countries have their budgets and fiscal gaps under relative control – Canada, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, China and a host of other developing (many not shown) as opposed to developed countries. As a rule of thumb, developing countries have less debt and more underdeveloped financial systems. The U.S. and its fellow serial abusers have been inhaling debt’s methamphetamine crystals for some time now, and kicking the habit looks incredibly difficult.
As one of the “Ring” leaders, America’s abusive tendencies can be described in more ways than an 11% fiscal gap and a $1.6 trillion current dollar hole which needs to be filled. It’s well publicized that the U.S. has $16 trillion of outstanding debt, but its future liabilities in terms of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are less tangible and therefore more difficult to comprehend. Suppose, though, that when paying payroll or income taxes for any of the above benefits, American citizens were issued a bond that they could cash in when required to pay those future bills. The bond would be worth more than the taxes paid because the benefits are increasing faster than inflation. The fact is that those bonds today would total nearly $60 trillion, a disparity that is four times our publicized number of outstanding debt. We owe, in other words, not only $16 trillion in outstanding, Treasury bonds and bills, but $60 trillion more. In my example, it just so happens that the $60 trillion comes not in the form of promises to pay bonds or bills at maturity, but the present value of future Social Security benefits, Medicaid expenses and expected costs for Medicare. Altogether, that’s a whopping total of 500% of GDP, dear reader, and I’m not making it up. Kindly consult the IMF and the CBO for verification. Kindly wonder, as well, how we’re going to get out of this mess.