A rational guide to America’s exasperating inertia
By Simon Black - December 11, 2023

Via Sovereign Man

Rene Descartes probably wasn’t thinking about gargantuan budget deficits and a $34 trillion national debt when he published Principles of Philosophy in the year 1644. But his ideas absolutely fit the scenario today.

Up until that point in history, much of science and mathematics was still based on the 1,500+ year old theories of Aristotle and other ancient Greek intellectuals– many of which were totally wrong.

Aristotle, for example, believed that a moving object required constant force to remain in motion. And this erroneous theory remained conventional wisdom well into the Middle Ages.

But Descartes challenged Aristotle’s view. Building upon the works of other minds like Galileo and Avicenna, Descartes declared that an object in motion will remain in motion… and an object at rest will remain at rest… unless acted upon by an external force.

Isaac Newton borrowed this conclusion when he published his famous ‘Laws of Motion’ four decades later; and today we call the concept ‘inertia’.

But inertia is not just a principle of physics. It applies to human beings too– our lives tend to take on a momentum of their own, naturally gravitating in a particular direction… unless we take deliberate action to reverse course.

Nations are subject to the same forces as well. In fact, history is full of examples of empires that rode a wave of negative momentum into terminal decline.

Analysis shows that their problems were almost always fixable. Ancient Rome, the French monarchy of the 1700s, the Ottoman Empire, etc. all declined from challenges that could have easily been solved: primarily, stop spending so much money.

Powerful nations tend to get in serious, serious trouble when they habitually overspend beyond their means. They go into debt, they inflate the currency, they raise taxes and plunder from the private economy– all of which make the problem even worse.

This is inertia: the object in motion– an empire in decline– remains in motion unless there is deliberate and timely action to reverse the decline.

Honestly this isn’t a particularly difficult concept to understand: if overspending is gradually (then suddenly) propelling your decline, then cut spending. Duh.

Yet history shows that this almost NEVER happens. And it’s astonishing that people in power have consistently failed to understand this simple concept for more than 5,000 years.

We’re witnessing the same thing today– the US is plagued by massive challenges of its own making. Or at least, the making of inept politicians.

The biggest problem is the government’s addiction to spending. Last year the annual budget deficit was nearly $2 trillion. Again. And there is no end in sight.

Right now, this very day, the US Treasury Department is set to issue a whopping $230 billion in debt. And tomorrow they’ll issue another $91 billion… for a total of $321 billion in just TWO DAYS.

I’ve written about this extensively, but I’ll keep repeating it because it bears repeating: spending is completely out of control.

Think about it: last fiscal year (which just ended on September 30, 2023), the US government took in $4.4 trillion in tax revenue.

Now, that would have been just enough tax revenue for the government to run a balanced budget– as recently as 2019, i.e. pre-Covid– when all federal expenses totaled roughly $4.4 trillion.

But today, $4.4 trillion is nowhere NEAR enough tax revenue to fund the government anymore. Over the past four years, these people have ballooned federal expenses to roughly $6.3 trillion. And this number is not going down.

The President’s proposed budget for this current Fiscal Year (2024) raises federal spending to $6.8 trillion, $7.1 trillion next year, and to $10 trillion by 2033. Plus, none of these projections considers the possibility of another national emergency, crisis, bailout, etc.

The net result of these somewhat rosy budget forecasts is that the national debt will continue its rapid increase… which means that interest payments will continue rising as well.

This is a big deal, because the increased interest payments end up consuming more and more of the federal budget.

In fact, the White House’s own forecast shows that interest on the debt, plus mandatory entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare) will consume 100% of federal tax revenue by 2031.

This means that, in 7 years, the entire discretionary budget of the United States government, including the military, will have to be borrowed.

(See for yourself on Table S-3 of page 137 of the President’s plan.)

They’re obviously aware of the problem– it’s in their own budget forecast. And this is clearly a solvable problem: cut spending. Go back to the 2019 spending levels.

But that’s an incomprehensible idea to the people in charge. So is another rational solution: optimize tax revenue. After all, if you can’t cut spending, then you might be able to make ends meet by raising revenue.

But they’re not doing that either.

In fact, Fiscal Year 2023 saw a 9% decline in tax revenue from the previous year. That’s not exactly a surprise, given that the people in charge are on the warpath to make things more difficult for productive people and businesses.

They’ve demonized the energy companies, driving up the cost of doing business for everyone. They have created an almost hilarious level of regulatory compliance– green compliance, woke compliance.

I read a story in the Wall Street Journal about a moving company that hires young college athletes to haul people’s furniture. They’re now under scrutiny from federal regulators for age discrimination.

Again, this is the opposite of what they should be doing. A healthy, vibrant economy where people are free to produce will deliver greater tax revenue, helping offset their outrageous spending addiction.

But instead, they’re strangling the economy, which reduces tax revenue.

Social Security is in a similarly terrible predicament; the program’s trustees project that Social Security’s key trust funds will run out of money in 2033.

If no action is taken, then retirees will face substantial cuts to their monthly benefits. Or the federal government will have to bail out Social Security to the tune of trillions of dollars– just as a down payment.

Again, this isn’t a terribly complicated solution; at the moment, Social Security is legally obligated to invest all of its money in very low-yielding US government bonds.

But the US has some of the most talented money managers in the world. And if they turned over management of Social Security’s funds to the private sector to boost annual investment returns, they could really close the funding gap and prevent a catastrophe.

Yet no one wants to touch the program. No one even wants to talk about it.

Based on this momentum, what’s most likely to happen is that the Federal Reserve will have to conjure trillions of dollars out of thin air down the road in order to bail out the government and Social Security.

This action will most likely spark another nasty bout of inflation, and most likely the end of the US dollar’s dominance as the global reserve currency. This would be disastrous for the US economy.

Again, America’s problems are not unsolvable. The solutions are actually fairly simple when you think about it. But, just like inertia and the Laws of Motion, a country in decline will remain in decline until leaders make deliberate, responsible decisions.

Unfortunately, that’s not happening. And I don’t see anything on the horizon to suggest that it will happen anytime soon.

This is an obvious reason to have a Plan B. And in my view, owning ‘real assets’ ought to be a major part of that.

More on this soon.

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