The following excerpt was written by Michael D. Tanner and originally published on The New York Post.
Most Americans look at the rerun of the Greek euro crisis with something between smug amusement and condescending disapproval. When will those profligate Greeks get their economic house in order and stop looking to others to bail them out?
But, should people living in glass economic houses really throw stones?
After all, just like Greece, the United States government has been living beyond its means, running up an enormous debt that will eventually need to be repaid.
True, our budget deficit this year will be lower than it has been, just $486 billion compared to $1.4 trillion as recently as 2009. But this is just a temporary respite. Within the next couple of years the deficit will start to rise again. By 2025, we will again face trillion-dollar shortfalls.
And even a $486 billion deficit adds to our ever growing debt. Our national debt currently approaches $18.2 trillion, roughly 101% of GDP. That’s right. We owe more than the value of all the goods and services produced in this country every year. It is as if your credit-card bills exceeded your entire pay check.
That’s not quite as bad as Greece, of course, whose debt exceeds 177% of their GDP. But it is worse than countries like France or Spain.
And give us time! Like Greece, the driving force behind our debt is the growing cost of entitlement programs for health care and retirement. If one includes future unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare, our real debt exceeds $90 trillion. That’s more than five times our GDP. Greece is still in worse shape — their unfunded liabilities top 875% of GDP — but we’re gaining.
At the heart of Greece’s problems lies a government grown too big, too intrusive, and too expensive. The Greek government spent nearly half of the country’s GDP last year (49.3%), and that actually represents a decline from the 51.8% it averaged since 2006. The Greek’s may complain about austerity, but they’ve hardly practiced it.
Our government is far smaller than Greece’s today. Federal spending is just 20.5% of GDP. But, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s alternative fiscal scenario, that could rise to almost 34% by mid-century. Factoring in state and local government spending, which already accounts for roughly 14.4% of GDP, total government expenditure in the US could reach 48% to 50% in 2050, roughly Greek levels.
What can be done to ensure the United States doesn't face a Greece-like collapse? An Article V Convention of States can propose constitutional amendments that force Congress to be fiscally responsible. A balanced budget amendment, among others, will go a long way towards getting our nation's finances back under control. Click here to learn more.