Stunning piece on 60 Minutes last weekend about David Walker, the comptroller general of the United States (Walker runs the Government Accountability Office, “which audits the government’s books and serves as the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress.”) He’s a prudent guy with a frightening message: The U.S. is radically over-promised, fiscally speaking. The numbers just don’t add up, and we’re heading for a fall – possibly financial collapse – if dramatic changes aren’t made, and fast.
Example: The first wave of Baby Boomers will hit the Medicare system in early 2008, and soon that system will be 5 times more overburdened than Social Security is now. He calls Bush’s prescription drug plan “the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s” — with one stroke of the pen, Medicare’s obligations were stretched by 40-75% over the next 75 years. We’d have to have $8 trillion invested in treasury bills today to begin to cover the bill. The reality: We’ve got zip. A pile of promises backed by thin air.
His message isn’t new – he’s been trying to get the word into the ears of politicians for years, but they don’t want to hear it. So he’s taking it to the streets, on an extended “wake up” tour of the U.S., talking to people and the media – whoever will listen.
What would happen in 2040 if nothing changes? “If nothing changes, the federal government’s not gonna be able to do much more than pay interest on the mounting debt and some entitlement benefits. It won’t have money left for anything else – national defense, homeland security, education, you name it.”
Our children’s future has been mortgaged over a barrel so many times over, it’ll be a wonder if there’s even such a thing as public schools in 20 years. Thinking about this kind of thing is like thinking about what life will be like when “the big one” hits California – so hard to contemplate the reality of it that, for the most part, we don’t.