It’s interesting to see how so many mainstream voices are starting to express concern about the gargantuan size of the US national debt.
For most of the past decade, even as the debt spiraled out of control and passed $20 trillion, $25 trillion, $30 trillion, etc., hardly anyone in the media said a word about it. If anything, they would insist that the ‘debt doesn’t matter.’
That tune is finally starting to change. And the latest example came last night when 60 Minutes interviewed the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell.
The US national debt now stands at more than $34 trillion. It will surpass $35 trillion by the summer and likely $36 trillion by the end of the year.
It’s growing so quickly that the interviewer asked about the debt, “Thirty years from now, it is projected to be $144 trillion. . . [I]s the national debt a danger to the economy in your view? I have the sense this worries you very much.”
The answer to almost any sentient human being, of course, is “absolutely yes.” And the Fed Chairman admitted as such. Sort of. He said:
“In the long run, the US is on an unsustainable fiscal path. . . Over the long run, of course it does [worry me very much] . . . It’s time for us to get back to putting a priority on fiscal sustainability. And sooner is better than later.”
Now a term like “the long run” is a funny thing because it can mean just about anything. To some people in finance and economics, “the long run” can mean five years. To others, fifty years.
Saying “the long run” is like asking your audience to fill in the blanks with whatever timeframe they think that means.
But this is intellectually dishonest… and it frankly makes the country worse off.
We’ve written about this extensively here at Schiff Sovereign: the US government’s own internal projections (which come from the White House and the Congressional Budget Office) forecast that the debt will increase by $20 trillion over the next decade.
And this is a true crisis in the making.
Consider that, by 2033, the government will have to spend 100% of federal tax revenue simply to pay for THREE things: Social Security, Medicare, and Interest on the Debt.
EVERYTHING else in government, including military spending, veterans’ benefits, and the electricity bill at the White House, will have to be funded with more debt… which only makes the problem worse.
This will be a fiscal black hole from which there is no escape. And it’s less than 10 years away.
We’re not being sensationalist or dramatic here; this is a simple arithmetic problem based on the government’s own projections. And frankly those projections are optimistic.
Their estimate for $20 trillion in new debt, for example, does not include any money for Social Security, which will require a multi-trillion-dollar bailout over the next decade. Their estimate also assumes there will be no war, no new pandemic, no national emergency, and no new idiotic, expensive legislation.
So, a more conservative estimate of the national debt is probably closer to $60 trillion or more by 2033. This means that interest payments on the national debt will take a greater and greater share of tax revenue.
The Congressional Budget Office forecasts admit this, stating that as the national debt increases, “the cost of financing the nation’s debt grows, [and] net outlays for interest increase substantially. . .”
The US government’s interest expense “rose by 35% last year, [and] are projected to increase by 35% again this year.”
No institution, not even the US government, can possibly expect to stay solvent when their interest expense grows by large double digits each year.
Now, it’s not like this is top secret information. The Congressional Budget Office posts this forecast on its website for the entire world to see. Surely the Fed has access to the Internet. Surely, they’ve seen these projections.
Yet the way 60 Minutes set up its question– by referencing the debt 30 years into the future– to how the Fed Chairman kept saying “the long run” and “sooner is better than later”, all gives people a false sense of security that the US has more time to resolve this crisis than it actually does.
This is an arithmetic problem, plain and simple. And the realistic window of opportunity to solve it is 5-7 years, at most.
The other disingenuous part about the Chairman’s comments was that, in addition to using terms like “the long run”, he encouraged “fiscal sustainability” without mentioning any specifics.
To some, “fiscal sustainability” might mean slashing welfare programs. To others, raising taxes on corporations and wealthy people.
So once again the Fed Chairman tacitly asked the audience to fill in the blanks and imagine for themselves what “fiscal sustainability” means.
This is also intellectually dishonest.
Social Security is, by far, the #1 most expensive line item in the federal budget. It dwarfs even Defense spending.
So, there is no “fiscal sustainability” at this point without making major cuts to Social Security. Nothing else– no other budget cuts– will matter unless there is a complete overhaul of retirement benefits and qualifications. It’s the only real lever the government has to balance the budget.
Ultimately this means defaulting on decades of promises that the US government has made to people currently in the work force.
Naturally no one wants to talk about this… including the Fed Chairman. So again, it’s left to the audience’s imagination to fill in the blanks.
Personally, I’m not holding my breath a solid majority in Congress will have the willingness and courage to cut entitlements. And frankly I presume the Inspired Idiots in charge will keep making things worse.
But the good news is that there is still a reasonable window for any independent-minded individual to take completely rational steps to reduce the consequences of what lies ahead.
And we’ll continue to talk about more of these solutions in the future.