America, We Have a Problem

The status quo---our foreign policy, our economic health, our exceptionalism---is fraying before our very eyes

“Angel of Grief,” Stanford University. (Phospheros/Flickr)

When the status quo begins to crumble, the natural reaction of most people is denial. We cling to what we know, and the specter of the unknown often sends shivers down our spines. But eventually events overwhelm the denial and mock the shivers. That is going to happen in coming years with increasing frequency because the status quo is fraying in many realms of politics and geopolitics. Denial is rampant.

Perhaps the best prism through which to view this phenomenon is what we might call “sustainability.” What do we see happening in America and the world that is not sustainable and yet is not recognized as such? As it turns out, quite a lot.

Consider the recent report that Social Security costs will exceed the program’s income next year, which means Social Security will have to begin dipping into its $3 trillion trust fund to maintain benefit payments. And that trust fund, under current projections, will run out of money within 15 years.

This means the Social Security system in its current configuration is unsustainable. And yet it isn’t clear there is a political fix in today’s turbulent politics—or even an economic fix with any chance of success. Mitch Daniels, former Indiana governor and now president of Purdue University, says that until a few years ago there were entitlement fixes that, phased in over time, could have assured older Americans that the country would honor retirement-income commitments made to them. Now, he says, that isn’t arithmetically possible.


Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, calls it “the most predictable crisis in history.” And yet there is almost no serious civic attention being paid to this unsustainable fiscal development. Fear of the unknown breeds denial.

But if the country’s entitlement matrix isn’t sustainable, that’s merely a small part of a larger unsustainable trend—America’s looming debt crisis. The national debt is now at $22 trillion, including debt held by the public ($16 trillion) and that represented by intragovernmental holdings ($6 trillion). Just the debt held by the public amounts to 78 percent of the country’s GDP. It nearly doubled under President Barack Obama and that growth is accelerating under President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, unfunded liabilities held by the states now exceed $1.6 trillion, some 147 percent of state revenues. And student debt amounts to another $1.5 trillion, an average of $38,000 per student.

At what point does this kind of financial recklessness catch up with us? Difficult to say, but at some point it will. The current trend is unsustainable.

Moving to the realm of politics, how sustainable is the current standoff between the national elites of the coasts and the heartland masses in between? The defining issue of our time, though it seldom is portrayed as such, is immigration. The elites generally now favor open borders. They deny it in words, but their actions belie their words. Prominent Democrats, leading what is now the party of the elites, increasingly conduct themselves that make clear their open border sentiments. They applaud when the courts curtail Trump’s efforts to stem the inflow. They demonstrate no sense of urgency at the border breach represented by masses of asylum seekers overwhelming our processing system. They foster sanctuary cities and states. They portray those who disagree with them as bigots, racists, xenophobes, and the like.

On the other side are heartland folks who wish to preserve the cultural character of the country they grew up in; who believe we have reached a point where assimilation of current immigrants is a legitimate concern; who think current immigration levels generate real economic problems for many Americans; and who harbor deep resentment when they hear elite commentators and politicians calling them bigots, racists, etc. Unlike the elites, when they see hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers overwhelming our system and getting free passes into America as a result, they get anxious and increasingly angry. They want it dealt with. And yet it never is. The country’s ruling class doesn’t care.

This issue is definitional. It goes to the heart of what kind of nation we are going to be. It generates high emotions. And it divides the country as few issues have in recent decades. Neither side possesses the political muscle to settle the issue on its own terms. Yet both sides possess the muscle to prevent the emergence of any solution. Until it is somehow settled, the nation’s politics will be roiled and dysfunctional. The current standoff is unsustainable.  

Consider now the realm of foreign policy. One has to ask if the current diplomatic tensions between the West and Russia are sustainable. The Cold War, we can see in retrospect, was a sustainable standoff. After the United States faced down the Soviet threat in Europe between 1946 and 1948, the competition moved to the peripheral areas of the world, with the Soviets generally refraining from directly threatening Western Europe and the West refraining from seeking to reverse the Soviets’ postwar gains in Eastern Europe. It was tense but not inherently unstable.

The current standoff, by contrast, is inherently unstable. With NATO having moved eastward to the Russian border, Russia finds itself grappling with a threat it views as crucial to its fundamental security. The loss of Ukraine or Georgia from its sphere of influence is a matter that Russia would fight over, as Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned (and demonstrated in Georgia in 2008). And yet the West still flirts with the idea of getting those two countries into NATO. Perhaps there is time for some kind of rapprochement that could defuse the situation, but the current standoff is probably unsustainable.

More generally, the entire American geopolitical grand strategy is unsustainable. Harvard University’s Stephen M. Walt wrote a provocative piece for Foreign Policy the other day entitled, “American Isn’t as Powerful as It Thinks It Is: The Era of unilateralism is over—and Washington is the last to realize it.” Walt raised the question of whether America remained a unipolar power in a world without any serious opponents capable of challenging that global status; or whether significant limits to U.S. power suggest that it “should be more selective and strategic in setting goals and pursuing them.” Walt said the current foreign policy under Trump is based on the former perception, while in reality the latter prevails.

The unipolar conceit has generated almost no foreign policy successes for America in the post-Cold War era, notes Walt, while failures have been numerous. And the American habit of trampling on the legitimate interests of other nations, friend and foe, is likely to generate a backlash that will leave America grappling with an increasingly hostile world. Walt warns that “being a bully encourages adversaries to join forces out of their own self-interest, while giving potential allies more reason to keep their distance.” It is no accident, he notes, that Russia and China continue to move closer together, even though they are not natural allies.

This unipolar conceit is based on two myths. One, well explored in Walt’s piece, is that the United States still possesses the power to dominate events throughout the world, involving all the nations of the world. This is so obviously false, in light of recent history, as to be almost laughable. And yet it still animates the thinking of many in the foreign policy establishment,  both liberals and conservatives..

The other myth is that the United States is a special nation, an exemplar of hallowed democratic principles that other peoples of the world wish to emulate, and hence our global involvement will generate more democracy and hence more stability. This is ridiculous, as demonstrated by the U.S. adventures in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. We may be special, but that doesn’t mean other nations will necessarily view us that way, particularly in light of our bullying foreign policy record of recent decades.

A foreign policy based on myths is unsustainable. Eventually reality will catch up with any nation promulgating such a foreign policy.

Which brings us to the U.S. policy toward Iran, designed to crush that nation through devastating economic sanctions, extended even to any other nation that may wish to trade with the Islamic Republic for reasons related to its own national interest. Clearly the end game here is regime change, but regimes seldom go down under this kind of pressure. More likely they coalesce and resist. Sometimes they strike back out of desperation when they have no other options. Then the result can be war.

It may be instructional to note that Franklin Roosevelt did the same with Japan in 1941—and that he even initiated plans for the removal of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast prior to Pearl Harbor. He knew what he was doing. He wanted war, and he knew that Japan would not accept humiliation through sanctions over the option of initiating military action in a desperate effort to escape the yoke of economic devastation.

Does the Trump administration know what it’s doing with regard to Iran? Is it aware of the reality that the Islamic Republic likely will choose pushback over humiliation? Is that what they want? We don’t know for certain. But we do know that that is what Israel and Saudi Arabia want. And we know that Trump and his minions have embraced those nations’ geostrategic sensibilities as America’s own. It’s certainly realistic to conclude that war is the actual end game.

Thus do we see that the U.S. policy toward Iran is unsustainable. Based on geopolitical illusions, it can’t possibly yield the desired regime change without war. That renders war the likely outcome.

The sustainability test helps us understand serious underlying realities of America and the world in these turbulent times. Once it is applied (and I have applied it only to the most obvious cases), two questions emerge: Is America a stable polity? And is this a stable world? The questions answer themselves.

Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington journalist and publishing executive, is the author most recently of President McKinley: Architect of the American Century.

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50 Responses to America, We Have a Problem

  1. JonF says:

    Re: Now, he says, that isn’t arithmetically possible.

    There no economic or mathematical reason social Security can’t be fixed: the issue is purely political.
    “Entitlement” here is a weasel word– it lumps in the much larger problems of Medicare with the much smaller and entirely fixable problems of social Security.

  2. It Never Is says:

    The author wrote “They want it dealt with. And yet it never is. The country’s ruling class doesn’t care.”

    It’s not just that they don’t care. It’s that the country’s ruling class is itself increasingly alien in culture, values, morality, and race. Particularly as it asserts hereditary privileges for its offspring vis a vis the native born, it will approximate the condition of a colonial elite. As such, and to the extent that it isn’t already, it will come to be seen as an enemy oppressor by real Americans.

  3. BUBBA HO TEP says:

    Every word rings true
    ….but for those that have the reigns of power…the status quo works quite nicely
    They will double down and fight change to everyone else’s last drop of blood

    …and then everything changes.

  4. JeffK says:

    Most of what Mr Merry opines here is true. However, regarding illegal immigration, jail employers, big and small, that employ illegals. Provide greencards to those already here that are gainfully employed and without serious issues with the law. Problem solved. However, the Chamber of Commerce will certainly not go along.

  5. Kent says:

    And which of these problems can’t be fixed by having Congress and the Presidency in the hands of conservative Republicans? Just once, please.

  6. Uncle Billy says:

    The United States is a welfare state, but only for those over age 65, via Social Security and Medicare. The problem is however, unlike Sweden, you cannot have a welfare state with low taxes.

    Neither can you have a welfare state with open borders. We are being overwhelmed by refugees from failed states around the world. The US taxpayer cannot support all the refugees of the world.

    The working class has seen wages stagnate and the middle class has seen pensions and health care disappear, while the billionaires get wealthier and wealthier. Something is wrong.

    Trump saw this and rode a wave of fear and resentment into the White House. He built a “base” but has he done anything for them? The much ballyhooed tax cut only helped the wealthy and big corporations. It did little for the working class.
    Domestically, we are in a downwards spiral.

    With regards to foreign policy, we need to stop trying to topple governments that we do not like. How has our policy of regime change gone? Iraq? Libya? Syria? Our meddling only makes a bad situation worse. We need to stop.

    The Pentagon budget is non sustainable. The F-35 is hyper expensive and a lousy aircraft. We fight wars with borrowed money, rather than raise taxes. Unsustainable.

    Yes, we the people, are in trouble, and our political leadership refuses to even discuss it.

  7. Anne Mendoza says:

    Our problems do not include an insolvent Social Security fund which even Alan Greenspan acknowledged in his congressional testimony in a 2005 exchange with Paul Ryan ( Because the U.S. is a sovereign, monopoly currency issuer, all that is needed is for Congress to direct the U.S. Treasury, through an appropriation, to spend money into the economy by issuing Social Security checks to pensioners. The notion that the Social Security fund and Medicare, for the matter, will go broke unless the programs are cut or taxes are raised to fund them is pure baloney and fear-mongering designed to persuade us to accept austerity cuts to entitlement programs.

    Furthermore, isn’t it interesting that no one ever whines about how we’re going to pay for our bloated defense budgets? Congress merely authorizes a defense appropriation and spends the money into the economy by directing the Department of Treasury to start adding zeros to the balance sheets of defense contractors. In fact, we keep throwing truckloads of money into that bottomless pit, billions more than even DOD requests, despite the fact that DOD cannot account for its spending. But that gravy train is never threatened.

    Regarding, deficits, it’s worth remembering that every debt is someone else’s asset. When the government spends more money than it taxes back, a deficit is recorded. The money in our personal savings accounts is money that the U.S. government spent into the economy but did not tax back. If all U.S. debt were retired, our bank accounts would be drained to zero, and we would all be broke. Also see Japan, a country with a deficit of 250% of its GDP, which is not teetering on the brink of financial collapse.

  8. Mark B. says:

    What an excellent and provocative article. Disfunction and rot inside can only last that long indeed. Something gotta give some moment.

    Attacking Iran might well become America’s Suez-moment. China might wanna seize Taiwan when this opportunity opens, Russia may do something drastic (Baltic states, Ukrain), the Saudi and Gulf States oil terminals may not survive, Hezbollah may attack Israel, the US and it’s dog Europe may experienxe a wave of suicide attacks in their cities by Iranian sleeper-cells.

    Who knows? But hey, bring it on, if that is what it takes to stop the US Empire and it’s dog Europe from committing further murder and mayhem in the world.

  9. Liam says:

    Mr Merry, may I introduce you to Mr Merry?

    Please consider that, after the Reagan deficits, the Bush 43 deficits and the Trump deficits, the GOP has forever lost credibility on concern trolling deficits.

  10. Dan Green says:

    As a confirmed Realist I would agree with the issues the author points out we face. Seems obvious, all the well intended international bodies we set up post WW 2, have seen their better day. The UN, Nato, the world Bank, etc., are not effective dealing with the worlds changes, where now Russia and China are our adversaries. The dramatic economic changes, brought about by the grand strategy of so called globalization, completely escape our lawmakers. Our financial responsibility to be with worlds policemen are no longer affordable. Nato is a perfect example. After all this time, is it our responsibility to protect Germany from a Russian invasion? Now that we are energy independent, is it our responsibility to engage in middle east wars? My point is, we are managing on myth, somehow the world is best served by accepting our worn out version of our very messy Democracy. I sight these few examples, because we will not admit, neither Russia or China will ever have any interest in seeing things as we do. One also has to consider, neither Russia or China would want a war with the US. A war would serve no purpose. Realism is not our best suit as they say, as we need take care of domestic issues, and tell our adversaries not to engage us anywhere we choose to pony up with an ally , (of course we have so few)i:e only the Brits.. Lastly history is clear, empires don’t last. They either are invaded and crumpled, or they destroy themselves from within. Currently we are are own worst enemy with our polarity. HRC’s label for our deplorable’s is incorrect, these are folks simply freightened.

  11. Power_S says:

    This is a great column and brought up some things I didn’t know, such as the truth about an “unprovoked” Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

    I disagree on one point. This isn’t about liberal elites vs the heartland. People who live on the coasts are A. Not all elites and B. Not children who cannot think for themselves. The implication is clear that people on the coasts are more or less mindless. Not true. Moreover, politicians are all the “Elite” on both sides. Trump and the GOP chose not to do anything about immigration. They could have. They didn’t. They chose a losing strategy to go after healthcare and a tax cut for rich people. Tell me what could be more a favor to the Elites than giving them 1.5 trillion dollars.

    What no one wants to acknowledge is that both the parties are in the pocket of corporate America. The Chamber of Commerce doesn’t want illegal immigration fixed. That is why the problem exists. Everything else is theater.

    What it comes down to is that there is a man behind the man behind the man behind the Throne, and his wants are all that matter. Truth is that the biggest issue in America is that the majority of us are being lied to and divided because it keeps the status quo in place.

  12. Nelson says:

    getting free passes into America

    Every single American citizen got a free pass into America except legal immigrants. We should increase the number of legal immigrants so that immigrating illegally wouldn’t be necessary. You mention social security sustainability, who do you think can provide enough additional workers to pay into the system to keep it solvent? Immigrants is the answer. And you speak of America’s culture, well our culture is an immigration nation. If you remove that then you are destroying America’s culture.

  13. Al Kawi says:

    Alas, this analysis is only too correct.

  14. Fran Macadam says:

    But there’s gold in them thar wars, for those whose opinion matters in buying the policies they want.

  15. Taras 77 says:

    Excellent article;
    unfortunately, it only deepens my dispair;

    there is no incentive by the heavy money, the elite, to fix things; we have ours, thank you very much, now, ___ off, do not bother us.

  16. Don Walker says:

    Spot on with regard to immigration and U.S. foreign policy, however, there is no real money, $3 trillion or otherwise, in the SS trust fund, only IOU’s from the Treasury, which has spent the money the SS system has taken in on any number of federal programs besides SS.

    So, seniors can only hope that the Fed creates even more trillions of dollars out of thin air in order to bail out the SS system, as it did for the Banksters of Wall Street when the housing bubble burst. Inflation and the dollar’s value be damned!

  17. david says:

    …. and then there is out-of-control defense spending, where pentagon is trying to have an arm race with China, which can build warships at a fraction of our cost. Plus pentagon’s tendency to have mega-projects that doesn’t work or going to be outdated (e.g. Zumwalt, or the ever larger carriers that will attract a saturated missile attacks)

    … and then there is the unsustainable K-12 education, where the the cost keeps rising per students, and yet the standards never rise, and racial and social divides in performance continues to be wide.

    … and then there is the hidden pension liability costs of more and more states, where the present values of the cost exceeds the annual income of the states.

    … and the ever rising cost of healthcare that exceed inflation rate almost every year… and the ever rising cost of college education and the student loan crisis.

    … and so on…

  18. Don Patterson says:

    Unsustainable, yes, but then the article puts all the blame on liberal issues. How about taxing Apple and GE who make billions but have been paying 0$ ? Or reducing the defense budget which is wildly out of line compared to other countries? Or as most Americans (even Fox news viewers) want: taxing the rich

  19. Gerald Arcuri says:

    “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop”.
    – Herbert Stein

  20. Tick Tock says:

    This is what happens when inbred morons are in charge. Just like the Blue Bloods of European Royalty in the past the A– Clowns of American Nobility today are too stupid and psychotic to function as leaders. Yep and lots of other support groups as so called Journalist like the author of this partly true partly flim flam twist of reality. It’s also the result of the Pigs of Capitalism run amoke with no jail sentences. To paraphrase the Beatle’s 60’s Hit tune, well not exactly as our historians do so well today, “All you need is Money!! Dah Da Da Da, All you need is Money!!! Money is all you need, Money is all you need. Yes the USA has become a despicable and disgusting place to have to live. It took over 50 years of hard work to turn the USA into the Joke it is today. Don’t believe it can be corrected anytime soon.

  21. Rossbach says:

    “The country’s ruling class doesn’t care.”
    The divorce between a nation’s ruling class and the people over whom they rule is another consequence of globalization. What this means is the today’s globalist elites will have to be replaced with patriotic elites if there is to be any hope of preserving our nations. It is unlikely the existing elites will yield power willingly, but they aren’t giving us any good options.

  22. StephenJ. says:

    Very interesting article. “We have a Problem” here in Canada too.
    “What Is Happening To Canada”?
    See also article link below, which also applies to America and other NATO member countries. We the people of a number of countries have a big “Problem” that needs answers.
    “An Open Letter To Politicians: Why Are the Peoples’ Tax Dollars Reportedly Funding, Training and Arming Terrorists”?

  23. Deacon Blue says:

    Really, our “enemies” – who aren’t even enemies, in the sense these nations aren’t champing at the bit to attack or invade us – can just sit back and let America do its own thing.

    America – or at least our government with all its insane policies and behaviors – will defeat itself.

  24. Ken T says:

    Anyone who goes around saying that fixing Social Security “is not arithmetically possible” needs to go back to second grade and start learning arithmetic.

    It is not politically possible for as long as people keep voting for politicians who are ideologically committed to destroying the system. (i.e., the entire Republican Party.) But there are many things that could be done that would make the arithmetic work out very nicely. It’s just that very wealthy people don’t like them.

  25. Frank Blangeard says:

    Social Security is easily sustainable. What is not sustainable is the Defense budget.

  26. Connecticut Farmer says:

    @Frank Blangeard

    I don’t know how “easily sustainable” Social Security really is. They’d have to jack up the FICA significantly and double, maybe even TRIPLE, the wage base which is currently around $128K. Good luck with that. As to the defense budget, about 16 percent is allocated to defense, with the rest going to, yep, Social Security, Medicare–the very same systems that are currently in danger of going belly-up. Even if we chop defense in half–and it SHOULD be cut for sure— the system still pays out more than it takes in. And now the guy who sounds like he should be making pastrami sandwiches at Katz’s Deli wants “Medicare for all!” Who pays? “Uh, the rich” says he. If after nominating (and losing with) the Congenital Liar in 2016 the demokrat party nominates The Pastrami Man in 2020–and given who currently inhabits the Big House–we’re in worse shape than I thought.

  27. backwater says:

    Social Security is threatened yet the elites find it necessary to give a minimum of 6.8 Billion dollars a year to Israel. We bear this cost and the cost of the wars that are fought and will be fought for Israeli interests. The elites error in thinking that with the media as their propaganda agents Americans can be convinced to accept the cost of the support for Israel. Wait until those Social Security checks stop arriving. Then we’ll see.

  28. Johannes de silentio says:

    Deacon Blue said:

    America – or at least our government with all its insane policies and behaviors – will defeat itself.

    Perhaps this self defeat, with the most incompetent president in American history, is a necessary medicine against the modern world’s madness with politics and economy that once did serve genuine human growth, but for too long has led everybody too far and too fast into the third millenium. The latter needs more time to foster genuine human growth. We overwork and are in need to rest, if needs must be, then compulsed by an ill fate. The financial and debt crisis ten years ago was perhaps a kind of wake up call from too big illusions, but politicians and economists continued their usual habits, and we really need a break. Of course, Mr. Trump must not start new wars, because people will be killed, hurt, wounded, and loose their homes. But defeat in war can turn out to be a blessing. The third millenium can then perhaps speed down from the mad twentieth century, and everybody can look at themselves and on their world, more humble. From the usual point of view of our own reason, Mr. Sanders promises reforms, but in my honest opinion, the defeat is better, at this time in history.

  29. Stephen says:

    Frank Blangeard: “Social Security is easily sustainable. What is not sustainable is the Defense budget.

    Actually BOTH are sustainable–PROVIDED Americans are prepared to pay the taxes necessary to sustain them withOUT running deficits, as happens in places like Sweden. If America try to sustain them by running deficits for year after year (as it is currently trying to do, especially with its trillion-dollar overseas wars) then it will just as surely fail.

    In 2019 America will pay $389 billion simply to service (ie pay the interest on) it’s $22 trillion national debt. By 2028 it has been estimated that that debt service fee will rise to $914 billion per year. At some point around 2030 it will hit $1 trillion per year. By 2040 it will (probably) have hit $3 trillion per year. (Or more if such additional binges as medicare for all are instituted with bringing in new taxes, or lifting existing ones, to pay for them.)

    In short, if that fee keeps going up, even if only at the current rate, then at some point the entire house-of-cards is doomed to come tumbling down. By that I mean America will eventually either default on its debt payments (in which case people will stop lending it money) or go (technically) bankrupt–or else it will find itself having to cut back on everything else BUT the debt service fee simply to keep from defaulting.

  30. Fayez Abedaziz says:

    A couple of facts here.
    Over three hundred Americans mean nothing and they could care less about them.
    That would be the crazies that Trump has advising him, like these two- Bolton and Kushner.
    Americans are taken as suckers and all that is
    good, all of the hard work of the past, at least one century, of America and you have people like these two deciding life and death for U.S. troops and people in other nations and with sanctions, costing America hundreds of billions in this economy and tens of thousands of jobs. Because these two and power
    ‘tripping’ Pompeo are there. Oh, and Trump i also a bully and has the intellect of nothing.
    Looks like Americans really are suckers, a bunch of confused, shallow weasels.
    And I know Americans, the history, the culture that 99% of Americans don’t.
    People who voted for Hillary and Trump are kidding themselves, but…what choice do you have in a lobby deciding nation.
    Go to work and slog on, dummies.
    Have a good day. Know what I mean?

  31. Kwill says:

    You all are very good at picking out the flim flam in Mr. Merry’s article. Yet come November most of you will find some foolish rationalization to continue to vote republican. We have had conservative republican policies most of the time since Reagan was president. These policies have done nothing but destroy working class people like yourselves as you know. It is so pathetic to watch this.

  32. EliteCommInc. says:

    Some of you might want to examine what is meant by unfunded liabilities.

    And if we took a look at the real GDP as opposed to what is sitting on the shelves or sold several tears before . . . the chunk out of the GDP exceeds it.

  33. aspnaz says:

    We can start by first recognizing that the USA is not a democracy. Political money prevents the voters from having representation, only the money has representation. Although the politicians’ talk has to appeal to the naive voters, the actions are those of legalized corruption, a sure sign that any ideal of a US democracy has always been pure bunk.

  34. P. Charles Lunsford says:

    The foreign policy part is totally missing the point. The countries mentioned where we are intervening are either Marxist or Muslim, both of which are dedicated to the destruction of the US. They clearly and openly say so. Leaving them alone will allow the creation of a monster that will roll over the world like a storm. The author seems to be saying that if we just be nice to them, they will leave us alone to be the largest and wealthiest country on earth. That is an historical fallacy. Weakness will always lead to invasion and looting by barbarians. Always has.

  35. JonF says:

    Connecticut Farmer, please go back and retake 2nd grade arithmetic as another poster suggested. We would not have to double let alone triple the FICA tax. The deficit in SS funding is just not that big.

  36. JonF says:

    EliteCommInc, you are mixing apples and oranges. GDP is an annual figure- it’s more or less the total national income for just one year. The so-called “unfunded liability” sum is a number compiled over decades, maybe more than a century- those who flaunt it rarely tell us how far out their calculations are going. To compare the numbers properly you need to multiply GDP by the same number of years being used to compile the unfunded liability total. Ify you do that, and even with the ludicrous assumption that GDP will not grow at all, the unfunded liability number is just a minor fraction of the sum of GDP over the period.

  37. Martin says:

    America became great due to the Protestant work ethic, and the way that ethic overcame the challenges inherent in a frontier society.

    But for recent newcomers, as well as a larger and larger proportion of the indigenous population, that particular ethic is absent, and those with the ethic will not agree to subsidising those with whom they have so little in common. Even more social polarisation is coming.

  38. The Village Atheist says:

    Boy!!! And I thought I was a Gloomy Gus. As usual, all the blame is on the “Democrat” Party and coastal elites. Please. We have the government the majority of voters want. Look at the reelection figures for incumbents. Pundits (right and left) can moan and groan about how American People are being mislead to destruction by corporate/cultural/political elites. Uncle Sam is being oppressed, swindled, abused and fooled by sinister forces. Yeah right. “We have met the enemy, and he is us”. Walt Kelly. I dare any politician of either party to run on a platform of reforms suggested in the article. Good Luck.

  39. JeffK says:

    @The Village Atheist says:
    May 1, 2019 at 11:07 am

    “As usual, all the blame is on the “Democrat” Party and coastal elites.” I agree 100%.

    How convenient it is to ‘forget’ that 6 of 8 years of the Obama presidency the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives, where, by the constitution, all spending bills originate.

    Also, for those not paying attention, The Republicans have controlled The House 20 of the last 26 years.

    The Republicans have controlled the Senate 18 of the last 26 years. The Republicans have controlled the POTUS 14 of the last 26 years.

    The Republicans have controlled, at the same time, The Senate, The House, and POTUS 10 of the last 26 years.

    The Democrats have controlled, at the same time, The Senate, The House, and POTUS 2 of the last 26 years.

    But somehow, from the perspective of many ‘conservatives’, Republicans (and Faux News), the Democrats/leftists/progressives are responsible for the $20 Trillion deficit, and everything else that is wrong with this country.

    The Republicans spend like the proverbial drunken sailor, and then blame the Democrats. And it’s amazing that at least 35% of Americans buy into this charade.

  40. Sid Finster says:

    If we have the government that a majority of the people wants, why is it so consistently unpopular?

    What we have is an oligarchy with some democratic republican trappings. That is, the citizens are permitted to select between no more than two candidates, in an electoral contest designed to ensure that those candidates are oligarch-approved.

    Not only that, but any politician who manages to stray from oligarch priorities is quickly reined in.

  41. tzx4 says:

    Kent says:
    April 30, 2019 at 6:49 am
    And which of these problems can’t be fixed by having Congress and the Presidency in the hands of conservative Republicans? Just once, please.

    Assuming your post was not sarcasm, you are referring to 2017 and 2018, right?

  42. EliteCommInc. says:

    ” you are mixing apples and oranges. GDP is an annual figure- it’s more or less the total national income for just one year. The so-called “unfunded liability” sum is a number compiled over decades, maybe more than a century- those who flaunt it rarely tell us how far out their calculations are going. To compare the numbers properly you need to multiply GDP by the same number of years being used to compile the unfunded liability total”

    look at this way . . . we haven’t paid for the previous unfunded liabilities

    D’ems not apples and oranges d’em is passed due pass due expenses in the now. You also might want to take a look at government accounting practices regarding departmental debt.

    “The truth is that we are just going to keep accumulating more debt until the system completely and utterly collapses.

    And even though the federal government is the biggest offender, there are also others to blame for the mess that we find ourselves in. State and local governments are more than 3 trillion dollars in debt, corporate debt has more than doubled since the last financial crisis, and U.S. consumers are more than 13 trillion dollars in debt.

    When you add it all together, the total amount of debt in our society is well above 300 percent of GDP, and it keeps rising with each passing year.

    But for the moment, let’s just focus on the giant mountain of debt that the federal government has piled up. The U.S. budget deficit for last month was 234 billion dollars, and that was an all-time record for a single month. Our exploding debt is an existential threat to our nation, and we are literally destroying the bright future that our children and our grandchildren were supposed to have.”

    But to be fair, I should have said the unfunded liabilities against the debt. As the scale and magnitude of our financial situation would cause anyone to engage in scaling it down, to the side, or not at all to ovoid the crushing truth.

    I appreciate the observation. And opportunity to respond directly to your complaint and expand and clarify my intended response.

    Surely you don’t think we are paying for our unfunded liabilities due each years. And for the record, I meant gdp and debt.

    Here’s some more apples and oranges:

    We are not counting unfunded even the annual budgets.It’s bushels of apples and far too many of them are rotting so as to make bushels of negative value.

  43. JonF says:

    Re: We haven’t paid for past unfunded liabilities

    Yes we have. “There’s no sc thing as an unpaid bill” is a truism that’s actually true.

  44. MM says:

    JK: “But somehow, from the perspective of many ‘conservatives’, Republicans, the Democrats/leftists/progressives are responsible for the $20 Trillion deficit.”

    It’s always amusing to observe this sort of revisionist history, this total avoidance of political responsibility, this dishonesty and partisan CYA.

    Leaving aside the numerical flub, debt is not the same as deficit, the federal government did increase it’s total debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion under President Obama, there’s no denying that. He signed the spending bills sent to him by the House and Senate, you can’t argue he had nothing to do with it.

    But it’s also a fact that half of that increase, $5 trillion took place in 2009, 2010, and 2011, during which a Democratic President signed spending bills sent to him by a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate.

    And it’s also a fact that, in inflation-adjusted dollars, the Pentagon budget reached a record high of over $700 billion per year in 2010 and 2011, again due to defense appropriations bills approved by a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate in 2009 and 2010 and signed by a Democratic President.

    It’s ludicrous to blame the GOP for that sort of spending in those years, because the Democratic Party had total control and did all of it themselves.

    Ironically, it was a GOP House that negotatiated the sequester with Obama to control the rate of growth in federal spending after 2011.

    Hacks ought to look in the mirror instead of blaming others for their own spending policies…

  45. MM says:

    JonF: “‘There’s no such thing as an unpaid bill’ is a truism that’s actually true.”

    Evidently, some people have absolutely no idea what a government bond represents…

  46. JeffK says:

    As usual, the virtuous Republicans are victims of the evil Democrats.

    Obama inherited a massive economic collapse. Keynesian economics says run a deficit in a recession, and pay it off when the economy is doing well.

    We are going to have a $985B deficit in 2019, the result of the budget signed when Trump and The Republicans controlled POTUS, Senate, Congress.

    Your lack of understanding of basic economics is amazing, given your claim to being a financial analyst.

    Some may buy your economic BS. Most don’t.

  47. Cheviot Hills says:

    Lunsford : “The author seems to be saying that if we just be nice to them, they will leave us alone to be the largest and wealthiest country on earth. That is an historical fallacy.”

    Except that no, the author wasn’t saying that, or even seeming to say that.

    “Weakness will always lead to invasion and looting by barbarians. Always has.”

    You’d be surprised how many Iraqis, Afghans, Libyans, and Yemenis agree with this statement.

  48. TheSnark says:

    I can’t remember the name, but when our country was founded a British political philosopher predicted that our experiment in Democracy would fail. He said that eventually the people would discover that they could vote money for themselves and vote for somebody else to pay for it.

    Since the population of “somebody else” in not large enough to pay for everyone’s wish list, both the D’s and the R’s default option is to pile on the debt. Or, in plain English, “somebody else” is our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

  49. MM says:

    JK: “Some may buy your economic BS. Most don’t.”

    Let’s see, late Saturday night, and the usual suspects can’t even address the basic facts laid out in detail.

    Charming… the revisionist history and dishonesty is where it belongs, in the rubbish bin.

    I won’t speak for what most people believe, as you claim to, but I can say with confidence that most people don’t act the way you do and don’t live in your little progressive bubble, sir.

  50. Christiane says:

    I think the conservative right politically is drawn to turning over the SS system to its supporters who contribute, in the guise of ‘privatizing’, which is ‘code’ for inserting one more middle man for citizens to deal with as if they didn’t have enough grief all ready (employers, insurance co-pays, insurance denials of claims, doctor choices or not, and so forth) . . .

    yeah, we really need ANOTHER middle-man pulling money out of our pockets for, as Nixon once approved: ‘less care for more profit’ for private insurers

    time for some sanity, the middle-class can’t afford much more ‘conservative’ economics folks, when there is nothing conservative about it

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