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The State of the Union of the States

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Politicians know all about lying with statistics. But it’s more effective to lie with anecdotes — using stories to ignore the biggest Statistic in the Room.

President Barack Obama delivered his constitutionally obligatory State of the Union address to Congress last night. He told a lot of stories, and most of them may have been mostly true, for all I know. But what we do know for sure is that these stories distracted us from the one statistic that matters.

You know, to the actual state of the union.

Which is not sound.

The rising level of debt is putting the finances of the union in grave jeopardy. Politicians have promised too much — delivered too much — courtesy of borrowing from future tax revenues. The current debt is larger than the nation’s annual GDP. (That’s the stat that matters.) The federal government owes more than all of us, together, earn in a year.

This, of course, is unsustainable.

And yet the president is doing precious little to curb this unhappy meeting with destiny. Deficits are down a tad. He took credit for that. He didn’t credit the Republicans, his recalcitrant enemies.

But, in a State of the Union address filled with programs to expand and goals to “guarantee,” he didn’t offer to cut anything, did he? (Other than promise, yet again, to close Guantanamo.)

Indeed, in Obama’s most recent bickering “negotiation” with the House had his bid for extending unemployment benefits met with an ask price of an offsetting cut elsewhere in the budget. The prez balked.

Our “state”? In a deep debt hole, oblivious, and still digging.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Townhall: The Politic Path of Least Resistance

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

The looming debt load will some day come a-crashing. But politicians are doing nothing — or nest to nothing — to stop the growth of the debt, and thus keep on piling on the extent and severity of debt.

So click on over to, to read this weekend’s column by Yours Truly, the purveyor of Common Sense, and then come back here for further reading.

Death by a Thousand Non-Cuts

Friday, December 14th, 2012

As I write this, the United States of America is $16,275,179,205,442 in debt. By the time you read this, we’ll have piled up millions more.

Much debt is of recent vintage. When George W. Bush became president in 2000, the national red ink totaled $5.7 trillion. In eight years, Dubya nearly doubled it to $10.6 trillion. Since his 2008 election, President Obama has far outpaced Bush, sinking us another $5.3 trillion in debt in just half Bush’s time.

And, by continuing to run yearly deficits of over $1 trillion, we’re digging the hole deeper at top speed.

For all the hysteria over draconian cuts, forced at the so-called fiscal cliff, those somewhat slippery savings would at best amount to about 10 percent of our yearly deficit, leaving us spending 9/10ths of a trillion dollars we don’t have.

In the “other cuts” department, the Obama Administration had been supporting paltry reductions to federal Medicaid spending of $17.6 billion over ten years (that’s less than $2 billion a year), but just flipped its position. Why? State governors are deciding if they can afford to take part in Obamacare’s massive Medicaid expansion to cover those earning up to 133 percent of the poverty line.

Not content to spend recklessly alone, the Feds picks up the entire tab of new Medicare recipients’ first three years. After that, Washington pays 90 percent and the states pay 10.

States are wondering how they’ll come up with that additional 10 percent — seven governors have already declined to join in the spending program. No one in Washington has given a second thought to paying the 90 percent.

They figure they can always raise taxes.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Slowest Spending in Decades?

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Government tends to grow in spurts, with budgets not decreasing after each spurt. This “ratchet effect” of fast growth then tapering off amounts to a long-term trend: growth.

You’ve probably seen Rex Nutting’s MarketWatch squib, the subject of many a Tweet and Facebook post. Entitled “Obama spending binge never happened,” it begins, “Of all the falsehoods told about President Barack Obama, the biggest whopper is the one about his reckless spending spree.” Nutting reframes the issue as one of the rate of spending growth . . . just as Republican apologists did in the ’80s, even though spending under Ronald Reagan’s first term grew at a whopping 8.7 percent — a bigger rate increase than Obama’s. Nutting entitles his graph comparing administrations’ spending growth rates “Slowest spending in decades,” indicating not how much Obama has been spending over revenue, but year-to-year rates of increase.Barack Obama, Spree Spender

The prez gets a bad rap.

Well, yes and no. The graph should make party-loyal Republicans and Bush admirers cringe with shame. Sure. But Obama and the current Congress are still spending. Hugely. And rapidly — those dollars fly out the door!

Further, by maintaining high annual deficits, Obama has increased the federal debt so that this year it has shot above 100 percent of current Gross Domestic Product, a first for my lifetime.

Obama can be blamed for not doing the decent thing after the horrible six years of united government under the Republicans, he didn’t reduce spending.

In other words, he’s no Warren G. Harding, who presided over a huge contraction of government spending, thereby helping usher in a quick recovery from the post-Great War bust.

We could use a man like Warren Harding again.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Down and Out and California

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Barring drastic action, the Golden State will run out of cash in March.

There is no provision in the Constitution for dealing with a bankrupt state. But then, there’s nothing explicit dealing with federal bankruptcy, either. The founding fathers didn’t expect their republic to permanently accumulate debt. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson wished to foreswear all sovereign debt. He considered the practice parasitic.California's Direction

Our leaders are supposed to run our governments so to avoid debt crises.

But, because politicians do just the opposite, they run into cash flow crunches. Last year, California’s statesmen borrowed $5.4 billion to cover the lean time before Spring’s tax revenues flowed in. They had figured they would be good through June, but miscalculated. Now they’re scrambling for an extra $3.3 billion.

Time to fudge the books! Pay late. Not answer the phone or respond to dunning notices.

Of course, the real problem is over-spending. California’s politicians spend too much.

Alas, it doesn’t look like they are about to reform.

Gov. Jerry Brown still pushes the huge “investment” of high-speed rail, for the grandest example. The project’s supporters have over-estimated ridership, underestimated costs (the most realistic official accounting now puts the system at $98 billion), and have been forced to restrict the extent of the line, excluding both San Diego and the state capital. Brown’s response? Making up for cost overruns by hijacking funds from the state’s “cap-and-trade” (the nation’s only carbon-footprint-based) tax.

Ah, politicians: Spend, spend, spend, even as the institutions they are responsible for lurch into insolvency.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Deficits Matter Morally

Friday, October 1st, 2010

There are two things I don’t understand.

Actually, there are many things I don’t understand, but what I’m thinking about, now, is how one can honestly defend massive government deficits in one of the two usual ways.

The first defense became a cliché while I still wore footsie pajamas: Deficits don’t matter because we owe the debt “to ourselves.”

The truth? More complicated. Some people buy debt; others don’t. Were we to “forgive us our debts” (to appropriate a familiar phrase), we wouldn’t be forgiving what we owe “us,” but what the “U.S.” owes just those investors who’ve bought that debt.

And not even “everybody” owes the debt, since the taxes that would be collected, extra, to pay the debt might not come out of your pocket, or mine — it’ll come out of those pockets, over there. (Of course, you’re probably thinking, “I should be so lucky!”)

No wonder government debt is so tempting. On the surface it’s all inclusive. “We’re all in this together.” But beneath, it’s some folks trying to get one over on other folks.

Nasty, eh?

Then what about today’s excuse: “We owe it to folks overseas.” Since much of our governments’ debt gets bought up by investors abroad, we don’t have to worry about it because . . .

The unspoken thought is: “We’ll just renege on our promises.” Not pay it. Screw them.

Simple truth: Apologists for growing deficits flirt with mass theft from the government’s creditors.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Economics vs. Politician-Incurred Debt

Friday, May 14th, 2010

For several years now I have worried — here on Common Sense and on Townhall — about the unsustainability of politician-incurred debt.

I’ve used the word “unsustainable” quite a few times. But too often I’ve simply called it “government debt.” I think I like “politician-incurred debt” better. For it’s politicians who have been unable to keep from over-spending.

And pretending that the consequent problem of debt is “impossible to solve in the current political climate.”

They’re wrong, of course. The “current political climate” is whatever people think and speak right now. Change the way we think and speak, and suddenly the impossible becomes possible.

But what do economists say?

Economists are notoriously able at the higher maths, such as simultaneous equations, symbolic logic and regression analysis. But the number of economists unfazed by the simple calculations to figure debt load and maintenance is almost as frightening as those figures.

Luckily, those ready to do the arithmetic of public debt are on the rise.

Take economist Veronique de Rugy.

Writing in Reason magazine, de Rugy succinctly offers up the numbers. America’s trillions in debt now surpasses half of Gross Domestic Product. Politician-incurred borrowing increasingly soaks up the limited capital available, undermining market recovery. She says politicians must “reform entitlement spending, put both military and domestic spending on the chopping block, and start selling off federal assets. Better to do it now than during a fire sale later.”

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.