Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dollar Inevitable Demise: US Government Needs 117 Trillion

Consider these figures. The current size of the American economy is roughly $14 trillion. As of this writing, the federal government's total public debt stands at nearly $13 trillion.

In its first midsession review, the White House Office of Management and Budget estimated that at the end of 2010, the national debt will breach the $14-trillion mark. This means that America's sovereign debt will be soon equal to the annual output of our economy. In other words, our national debt will shortly reach 100 percent of GDP. History and experience show that most governments that assume such levels of debt are ultimately not able to contain them. In most cases, this kind of situation eventually leads to the disintegration of the country's monetary regime and the collapse of its currency.

This outcome is not inevitable, given that -- in theory, at least -- a debt of 100 percent of GDP is still manageable. But to bring things under control would require strict fiscal discipline. Unfortunately, there no indication that our federal government can muster any. Quite the contrary. Last year the federal budget deficit reached a record $1.4 trillion. At nearly 10 percent of GDP, this was the highest peacetime deficit in history. Despite the numerous assurances that the 2009 shortfall was a one-off event brought on by the financial crisis, this year's deficit will go even higher. According to theanalysis submitted by the Congressional Budget Office last month, it will climb to $1.5 trillion. This will amount to 10.3 percent of GDP.

There is every reason to believe that the deficit will grow even faster in the years to come, as the federal government further increases its involvement in health care. The estimates by the Office of the Management and Budget which we quoted above do not factor in the costs associated with the recently passed health care reform. Even the more conservative estimates project that the legislation will cost well over one trillion during the program's first ten years. It is almost certain, however, that this figure is grossly understated, as government programs have a tendency to exceed their initial cost projections by grotesque multiples.

This, however, is not the worst of it, because the national debt represents only a relatively small portion of our government's total financial obligations. The far greater bulk is made up of long-term liabilities inherent in entitlement programs. According to the latest estimates by the Dallas Federal Reserve, the combined liabilities of Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid amount to an astounding $104 trillion.

When we add the national debt and entitlements together, we get a figure of some $117 trillion. This figure represents the amount of money the federal government will have to come up with in the years ahead in order to discharge its obligations.

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