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Buddy, can you spare a trillion?

It's Budget Day! Always a big day here in Washington, as we learn of new ways that the government will spend more than three and a half trillion of our dollars. That's about one and half trillion dollars more than the government receives in revenue. How is that sustainable? Easy: We call China! China has money. All will be well.

The great thing about debt is that it doesn't have to be repaid until the future, which conceivably might not even happen. The future, remember, is just a theoretical possibility, hardly more than a hypothetical. The key characteristic of the future is that it hasn't happened yet; thus by definition the arrival of the future is merely some probability less than 1. Sure, the future is something physicists tell us is just as "real" as the past, but if so, how come there are all these non-fiction history books by people like Gordon Wood and Doris Kearns Goodwin, but the only books about the future are "science fiction"? Isn't non-fiction more "real" than fiction?

The logic of my argument is so crystalline that I want to step back and admire it for a moment.

[Achenmuzak in background...]

Maybe if we just wait long enough the gaping fiscal wound of America will heal itself. That's my approach to car trouble. I wait for the Honda to heal. It usually does. I don't know how that happens, but the regenerative powers of modern automobiles are remarkable.

I think we can't predict the future. It's a complete mystery beyond the vanishing point that is just a few years out. The only thing we can say with certainty is that, in the future, people will travel by thought power and dogs will know computer code. In the future all consumer products will be free, and we'll just think ourselves to Wal-Mart and pick out whatever we want and the cashier will just WAVE at us. "Buh-bye now, thanks for taking at Wal-Mart!" Money will be considered as medieval as the rack and the gibbet. All this talk of -- hold on, let me get the exact language from the Post story today --
"red ink [that] would recede to $1.3 trillion in 2011 but remain persistently high for years to come under Obama's policies" -- ignores the possibility that we'll evolve beyond mortal flesh and become quantized probabilistic fluctuations in the vacuum of an eternal universe. If anyone duns us we'll just fluctuate away. We'll say, "Flux off, buddy." Yar.

What worries me -- because I'm a deficit worrier -- is that a government that is already in debt is also rather profligate with its promises. Thus the government is on the hook to give every Boomer a new hip in the near future. Thus the retirement age will barely budge even as people want to play tennis on new government knees at the age of 130. The unfunded liabilities make the debt today look like chump change.

Almost lost in the political theater surrounding health-care reform is the central fact that, once again, the biggest budget-busting element of the government remains on course to swallow up our resources in the next few decades. Everyone knows it's a problem. Nothing has been done.

Could it be that Washington, as currently configured, is dysfunctional? Your thoughts please.

By Joel Achenbach  |  February 1, 2010; 7:38 AM ET
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Next: The coming moon war


The budget is as much a fiction novel as any sci-fi tome. And it gets down to the old maxim, "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that guy behind the tree". There are entrenched interest groups for virtually every line in the budget, and no one wants to give up anything that they have come to believe is an inalienable right.

Posted by: ebtnut | February 1, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

love this! as a librarian, the bits about science fiction/non-fiction really made me laugh, at the reference desk no less! a great way to start my day and week.

Posted by: mfigiel-krueger | February 1, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

I wonder what portion of government revenues come from income taxes, and what from everything else? That is, will revenues increase sustainably when jobs do? I doubt it.

Posted by: Yoki | February 1, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Joel, if you think we aren't already "quantized probabilistic fluctuations in the vacuum of an eternal universe," you're kidding yourself, dude.

Well, except for the eternal universe part - checks always come due.

However, payment may not necessarily be made in kind. It might be taken out in integrity, or dark matter dollars, or -- anyone seen what souls are going for these days?

I'd be careful about getting such crazy theoretical items as the US Budget mixed up with real stuff like QM and cosmology.

Someone decides to demand payment on the whole thing in real in Higgs Bosons or they're going to forclose on the property of spacetime we've become accustomed to (and evolved in), there's going to be Real Trouble. Might throw the whole Cosmological Constant off, and then were would we be?

Bernanke might try to bail us out of that one with a Cosmic Asset Recovery Program, but I think the idea sounds fishy. But who am I to complain about it in this forum?


Posted by: -bc- | February 1, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

At least the US has younger people who might pay for those replacement hips, at least for a while. Not Germany, nor Italy, where the wolves are moving in:

Maybe we could arrange for German experts to provide advice on how to shrink Detroit.

We seem to have significant numbers of politicians who expect to be raptured, so the folks left behind get to deal with those deficits.

These same folks seem to have problems understanding that there's a real, immutable past. There's weird versions of US history (as in slavery being a leftover from British colonial days that good Southerners were busily bringing to an end when the nasty Yankees invaded).* And much weirder versions of prehistory. There's even fairly serious versions of counter-factual history. The novel and now play "Nation" playing at Britain's National Theatre is set in an alterative 19th century, one with the Russian flu.

I'd say that sci-fi set in the past is thriving.

*That seems to be what Texas school kids will get in their next set of textbooks

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 1, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

The full budget is online:

I particularly like the section called "Inheriting A Legacy of Misplaced Priorities"

Posted by: yellojkt | February 1, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Here you go Yoki-

income taxes are about 45% of total federal revenue.

Posted by: kguy1 | February 1, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

One guy (who was just in San Antonio) proposes the simplest of solutions regarding getting a health care bill passed:

Posted by: laloomis | February 1, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

That gaping fiscal wound--maybe its just the cumulative effect of thousands of small cuts borne by the people of the United States:

From the AP article at the Huffington Post:

The surge in the deficits reflects not only the increased spending but also a big drop in tax revenues, reflecting the 7.2 million people who have lost jobs since the recession began and weaker corporate tax receipts.

Navigating a tricky course, also from the AP article:

Obama's new budget attempts to navigate between the opposing goals of pulling the country out of a deep recession and getting control of runaway budget deficits.

Any mention of the problematic pachyderms in the parlor? The entitlement programs: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?

Posted by: laloomis | February 1, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Budgets appear to be probabalistic rather than deterministic, too.

I seem to remember that about 10 years ago we were looking at balanced budgets and significant reductions in the overall US Debt that had been accumulating.

Our mileage may vary.


Posted by: -bc- | February 1, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Income tax is just part of the picture. The combined employee/employer tax burden for social security, medicare, and unemployment is another 38.3% of federal revenues bringing the combined direct or indirect payroll deduction to 82% of the total revenues.

Corporate income taxes contribute another 10.3% and the rest comes from excise taxes, estate (death) and gift taxes, custom duties, profit from the Fed, and spare change found between the couch cushions.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 1, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

Re: 9:41...LOL

Posted by: laloomis | February 1, 2010 10:01 AM | Report abuse

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Morning, friends.

"Thus the government is on the hook to give every Boomer a new hip in the near future.

*Ouch*, JA. That line made my already sick hip cry.(smile)

Some of the ice has melted, but there's still that chunk on the ramp. I'm hoping the sun will finish it up today. I'm so ready to go outside. At least get further than the porch. Have a great day, folks.

Posted by: cmyth4u | February 1, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Here are the income tax receipts in billions:

2008 1,146
2009 972
2010 1,081
2011 1,218
2012 1,378

A 42% increase over a three year period qualifies in my mind as rosy expectations.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 1, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse




It's a mess (laymens terms that is)

'They' (the experts (ha)) say we can grow ourselves out of this mess with double digit growth in our GDP over the course of the next 75 years. GDP in the 1990s was something like 3.2%. I think they use 1990s numbers because 2000s numbers were negative, and they're trying really hard not to scare the crap out of us.

Posted by: omnigood | February 1, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Be careful with that hip, Cassandra. I don't want to buy any more than I have to. I'm hoping they cost a lot less when I need one. If only they would follow the price curves of hard drives.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 1, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Anybody who paid attention when we had the economic boom at the end of the last century will know two things. First it was unexpected and second, people kept busy telling us how bad it would be to pay off the National Debit.

So no matter what happens, Joel will be around to tell us that it will be seriously bad. That may have a probability nearer to 1 than we need.

Posted by: gary4books | February 1, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

A replacement hip? Don't need no steenkin' replacement hip. KLet some other geezer have my replacement hip.

Call me when you start handing out knees...

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 1, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

I like the chart, kguy, but it needs more data. I'd like to see "income taxes" split into payroll personal income tax and capital gains personal income tax. And a dotted line through the other payroll taxes (fica, etc) showing employer / employee contributions which I assume is about 50/50 in theory.

I read recently restoring the inheritance tax would bring in a trillion extra per decade. The corporate income tax downward trend on the chart says a lot also.

I support small imported-goods-taxes but only in good times.

Posted by: Jumper1 | February 1, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Good oogley-boogley, talking about taxes and deficits is even worse than talking about sci-fi, knitting, fighter planes, Constellation, the heartbreak of psoriasis. Can we not just ignore this entire kit and get down to recipes, books, movies, Lady Gaga's couture, poetry, canine haiku, or something?

And I don't want to talk about the future, either, because at some point I'm going to be dead in it, and I've already got other things to think about and work to do without having to dwell on that sort of thing.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 1, 2010 10:19 AM | Report abuse

Stunningly dull comments.

Posted by: jezebel3 | February 1, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

54 Billions for nukular reactors? Someone better start looking for that stack of blank License to Operate that was set aside in the eighties.

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | February 1, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

If we need to lop 1.3 trillion off the budget, the only thing we need to do is quit sending out social security and medicare checks. And think of all the gummint bureaucrats we could fire.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 1, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Future think: WOW. When (that's past) I left the column there were 3 comments. By the time this started there were 14 Report Abuse's. I hardily agree that the future is unpredictable, only something hoped for.

My big question is, "What does a nebulous future reflect about intents,promises, oaths, contracts? Can western civilization even function in the face of a universal recognition of the TRUE? nature of the future?

I guess we'll keep on keeping on, whatever.

Lowen, (not Kbertocci)

Posted by: kbertocci | February 1, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

As an history:

Many journalists--including Tim Egan at the NYT and a LATimes blog--have mentioned the very recent news that the last bookstore in Laredo just closed, a store that was serving about a quarter of a million people in this nearby border city. The alternative for people on the streets of Laredo is to drive two hours to bookstores here.

Far lesser known and also in the news is that San Antonio's only bookstore on the South Side closed at just about the same time as the one in Laredo--different corporate parents--but shuttered all the same (which means that Laredo folks will have to drive at least another 15 minutes further...).

I guess the future is either the iPad or oral history?

As for goings-on across our other border, NYT's Paul Krugman luvs the Canadian banking system, the economic luv expressed in his op-ed today.

Posted by: laloomis | February 1, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

The biggest impact on the budget was that Obama actually included the war(s) in his numbers. Bush didn't... or at least not all of them.

Also, remember that Congress gave a small middle-class tax cut.

AND, for all you "cut the spending" folks out there, also note that the billions that have been spent so far on jobs programs and outlays to extend unemployment funds managed to garner only a .4% lift on spending in December.

Could you imagine where we would be without the recovery spending efforts?

We are paying a dear price for what mistakes were made in the years leading up to the crisis. If we don't do anything or less, we just set the problems in stone.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 1, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I have always thought that GWB lost a tremendous opportunity to change the course of this country in the aftermath of 9/11. The nation was in shock. The president's approval was sky high. He could have called for sacrifice on a national scale- no more tax cuts, real concerted efforts at conservation and recycling, and a general belt tightening to reduce reliance on foreign oil and to finance the War on Terra, as well as true bipartisanship in finding ways to combat not only Al Qaeda but alleviate the underlying causes of unrest which fuel the growth of such groups. It was a golden opportunity for leadership not unlike what occurred in 1963 after JFK's death. Instead he told us to go shopping. Anyone who failed to agree with him was helping the enemy, and the rest you know.

Posted by: kguy1 | February 1, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Loomis, where are the folks of Laredo going to go to buy overstocked copies of the next Coulter work?

Posted by: russianthistle | February 1, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

kguy: Naomi Klein "shock"

One of six. Line at about 3:40 ... "Keynsian Bovines."

Posted by: russianthistle | February 1, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Walmarts still sell books. I bet as many if not more than dedicated retailers.

Thanks for condensing mudge's remarks. Budget talk is always boring and wonky.

Spending a buck-fifty for every dollar you bring sure sounds might scary to me.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 1, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, did Shriek say something? *getting a Q-tip for general ear canal maintenance* :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | February 1, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

" medieval as the rack and the gibbet."

My rack and gibbet are made of that carbon-fibre composite they use in hockey sticks. And the rack has an iPod dock (so its stretchee can listen to Celine Dion, natch).

Next, you'll be complaining about how you can't find the new Lady Gaga album on Quadraphonic 8-track...

Posted by: byoolin1 | February 1, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Ann Coulter writes books? I always thought she communicated by skywriting with her broom.

One small thought FWIW. Lots of folks younger than me (there are so very many these days) seem to point the finger (I ain't sayin' which one) at members of the Baby Boom and say either or both of the following:"Hey Pops, hurry up and retire so I can have your job." and "You guys are going to bleed the country dry with your stinking entitlements!" To them I say, "Make up your mind. If I retire I gotta have Medicare and SS (not to mention the fact that I've been paying into the system for 45 years). WalMart isn't hiring greeters fast enough to absorb all of us."

Posted by: kguy1 | February 1, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Aren't you the same guy complaining that a return to the Moon was not funded in this budget? You can't have it both ways.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | February 1, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

The chimera of Chimerica?

(Yes, and Costco sells books, too, with most--though not all--guaranteed to entertain, rather than inform.)

Posted by: laloomis | February 1, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

*de-icing the steps to the bunker*

Posted by: -jack- | February 1, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

@laloomis: "(Yes, and Costco sells books, too, with most--though not all--guaranteed to entertain, rather than inform.)"

Now, now, I think that is probably a bit inaccurate. I expect that they are guaranteed to *do no more than* entertain. Whether they achieve even that level of success is a different matter.

Posted by: ScienceTim | February 1, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I guess the problem is that everyone will be in a state of denial until the budgetary problems get too bad to ignore. Nobody wants to cut entitlements, and nobody wants to raise taxes. So we have this situation akin to financial chicken with nobody willing to blink.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 1, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

The big chain bookstores came through a few years back and wiped out the independents. Then, because they only stocked dreck, they went out of business, leaving only one or two and the independents long gone.
Too bad Laredo got skewered too. I'm not sure they had a bookstore at all when I visited in the '70s repeatedly. There's always Amazon. That's what I use more and more. Saves on gasoline.

I don't think economics is dull but I can understand comments by the untrained like me can be. So I will shut up. I found the chart I was looking for.

Posted by: Jumper1 | February 1, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

To get books aren't there these things called libraries? I visit mine all the time. It's real easy. Ive got a special card and everything. And there is this pretty librarian who always smiles at me.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 1, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Ants and grasshoppers.

Posted by: Jumper1 | February 1, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

jkt, I agree. Time to tax the wealthy and large $ earners. Time to tax corporations for non-productive practices, no more tax cuts to cut workers' jobs. Tax lobbying past a point, not provide a deduction for it now.

Tax mergers for incurred job losses. Use tax incentives to maintain jobs as opposed to paying for unemployment benefits.

Above all, remember how we all feel now when the economy rebounds and the first inclination is to cut revenues.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 1, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Also, I hear you can get books from the internet if you want to keep them forever. I've been known to do that on occasion.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 1, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

The thing is, it is going to take both cuts to entitlements *and* higher taxes. I really don't think either in isolation can accomplish this. The numbers just don't make sense.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 1, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

RD, you would be surprised. We all have to sacrifice, but the middle class and lower classes have been doing much of the sacrificing over the past 20 or so years.

Of course, if we take military and security spending off the table, then we have a large challenge.

BTW, I think it is interesting (and I don't mean at all to criticize your position) that we have such a battle over single payer health care, but we have such a huge concern about the costs of Medicare.

I ask everyone, if you want to control the total costs for healthcare, where do you start? probably removing the profit motive.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 1, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, y’all.

The Grammies posts were stunning. It was tres challenging picking only one for Best Grammy Boodle Post. I want to sincerely thank all the lovely contestants.

This year’s winner of the Best Grammy Post Award goes to…

**Insert envelope-challenged moment here**

**Insert drum roll here**

The winner is…yellojkt! For his 10:19pm post!

**Insert wild cheering from the peanut gallery here**

Many kits ago, December 8th to be precise, Mr. A posted another federal debt kit. In the boodle I presented the MsJS theory of how stuff like this works. Excerpts follow.

“I would put you all "within an eye-blink of a coma" (thank you Mr. A, this has become one of my new favorite lines) if I were to drone on about my economic philosophy. Let's just say I think most economists start from misguided premises in building their theories, the result being a vast mansion of cards.

“Bottom line, economics relies heavily on what you believe to be true. It also relies heavily on what you believe may be iffy, but you are sure you can convince others of its validity and thus it becomes a sort of truth in that you believe that others believe in it.

“The debt issue is one such example. We're constantly making bets based on either what we believe or what we believe others believe.”

Mudge commented “In that case, perhaps economics should [not] be called ‘the dismal science,’ but instead ‘the dismal neurosis.’ ”

ftb’s take was “I found the assumptions that were made [in a business/economics class taken years before] were unusually silly most of the time.”

And scottynuke found a real example of this theory at work with the Nats’ signing I-Rod to a two-year deal.

To summarize, it’s a great big casino with lots of bets being made in the name of sound economic and governmental policy. The fun is in the differences folks have regarding the definition of sound.

Posted by: MsJS | February 1, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

As a retired gummint bureaucrat who did her share of budgeting in the day, I say your theory makes a lot of sense, MsJs.

It just kills me that Bush 43 blew the chance to get rid of the deficit.

Posted by: slyness | February 1, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

This is so unexpected. I want to thank my mom and dad for spending all that good money on my college tuition so that I can grow up to snark on the internet. I want to thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for donating His Noodly Appendages to make Pink's circus performer/pole dancer costume. And thanks to all the little people that make the Boodle so much fun [music swells] like mudge, and bc, and TBG, and MsJS, andScottyandkbandCqPand ... [mic goes dead]

Posted by: yellojkt | February 1, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

You assume balancing the budget was a goal of 43. It wasn't. Diminishing or eliminating the tax burden on people with eight-digit incomes was. And at that he succeeded admirably. If we could redirect teabagger outrage at undertaxed fat cats, we could accomplish quite a lot.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 1, 2010 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Speak quickly yello, I think I spy Kanye West coming toward the stage.

Posted by: kguy1 | February 1, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

OK, gotta run. Disaster is brewing (SHOCK) ... I would again suggest that folks take 30 minutes, sit with a cup of tea and watch the Naomi Klein youtube link that I posted up-boodle. Some may think that discussing the Shock Doctrine doesn't apply, but I think it is absolutely important for us all to have it in the back of our minds. Many of our government revenue systems have been gutted to get to just this point to break our welfare systems just when we all need them the most.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 1, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

MsJS, you make very good points (and thanks for quoting me). The economy is really a house of cards and whenever the wind blows, there go the cards. Western countries really have been very fortunate that not all the cards went *splat* before last year. Those who have a lot of money (and I mean *a LOT of money*) can still take care of those expensive habits ("who needs to feed hungry children -- they ain't *my* kids") without any pain. With modest exception, Western societies are pretty selfish. As is the political game (and gaming, which turns, as we know by the smell, "gamey").

Ah, well.

Deliberately missed the Grammy's last night. Not only am I only vaguely familiar with the names of the "artists," I never listen to that kind of music. And looking at clothes that I could not ever get into myself? Nah.

Hoping to get some ministerial things done today. Maybe.

Posted by: -ftb- | February 1, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

The problem with the Federal budget is that most of it is way too big (duh!) for anyone to be able to figure out how to realistically assess and properly size it, even for an individual department. I worked for 27 years in the budget shop for a major agency--formulating, presenting and executing the agency's total budget.

We knew what was thrown into that bubbling stew, but everyone else, from the OMB examiners who reviewed it to the Congressional staff who had to recommend to their bosses what to enact, to the GAO auditors who tried to find something wrong with how we spent it, basically had no clue. OMB's job was to make sure the President's priorities were covered, but everything else was a mystery to them. Congress just had no clue...maybe a member would latch onto some "scandal" (i.e., travel money) or some pet project they wanted, but there was never any substantive review and legitimate cuts or additions; they'd either just enact it as presented or make us take an across-the-board cut like everyone else.

Federal budget preparation and review has become simply a political "process", which is why nothing other than significant across-the-board reductions or some kind of budget "commission" will have any effect.

Posted by: capsfan77 | February 1, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

"Could it be that Washington, as currently configured, is dysfunctional? Your thoughts please."

Of course that is true but the problem I have with Joel's statement is the POV. Washington is dysfunctional but that is only because it is a reflection of the electorate itself. We have grown accustomed to the insane idea that government is the fountain of goodness, designed to protect us from foreign baddies and domestic misfortunes and that "somebody else" will pay for it.

If we want to fix dysfunctional Washington, we need to start with a mirror.

Posted by: edbyronadams | February 1, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

Let me just say that the ScienceFamily is not rich, we have discovered: we have at various times visited the homes of people who are, apparently, still solidly middle-class yet operating comfortably at expenditure levels 2 to 3 times ours. Yet, we are well above the poverty line and happy of it. We would be satisfied to pay a substantially greater amount in taxes, so long as we can feel that we are not shouldering the entire burden on behalf of people who are already doing much better than us, financially, or our peers who should also be making an effort. In other words: soak the rich!

TurboTax routinely informs me that we are doing more than our share, relative to others in our tax bracket, when it comes to charitable contributions. This is odd, given that so many good and honorable souls of similar income, go about proclaiming that charity should be the province of private do-gooding rather than government, and that they tithe accordingly. Apparently, we have different definitions of "tithe", or maybe different definitions of "accordingly", as our deductible charitable contributions for last year come to about 5% of gross and TurboTax has told me that this puts us well above the 50th percentile or so for charitable giving. TT also has told me that our economic peers receive a substantial fraction of their income in the form of dividends and investments. I suspect that things will look a little different this year, as our investment income will remain very modest, while our uncharitable peers will be looking at healthy losses. So, there is some justice in the world. Although I guess that those losses are deductible.

Posted by: ScienceTim | February 1, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Not that it makes fixing things easier, but a lot of the problem comes from hidden assumptions behind laws. I mean, life expectancy, birth rates, distribution of incomes, and many other demographic factors were just assumed to be constant.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 1, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

But, edbyronadams, we have also grown accustomed to the insane idea that government is the fountain of badness, is unnecessary (except when hurricanes and/or other "natural disasters" hit or even regarding Pearl Harbor/9-11 catastrophes). Of course other people pay for it ('cause we all want something for nothing).

Countries without effective governments and the associated governing (wow-what a novel subject, eh?) are, for example, Somalia and Zimbabwe, where those "in power" rule with an iron hand, there is anarchy and violence, but, hey, who cares, because power is the important thing, and governing isn't.

Besides, in "smaller" governments (which in the Rethuglican camp of the the GWB era exploded the government (by enlarging it) all the while exploiting it for individual (yet, oh so deserving) gain of a few)) *STILL* needs to be governed. And if those in power (there's that word again) don't want to govern, and merely feed at the trough of *other people's money* where's the advantage in that FCOL???

But I digress . . . . .

Posted by: -ftb- | February 1, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Well, you can't find MY books on the Internet.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 1, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Ooooh, you know what they say, “Everything will be alright in the end. If it's not alright it's not the end.”

P.S. I found your blog by accident. Love your sense of humor and enjoy your readers’ comments also.

Posted by: q-ma | February 1, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Didn't you know? Spending is ALWAYS a national emergency while deficit reduction can ALWAYS wait until next year. Now, pass the chop suey.

Posted by: ttj1 | February 1, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Welcome, q-ma! We always like folks who like Mr. A's sense of humor.

Posted by: MsJS | February 1, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Oh BTW, a front page alert is in effect.

Posted by: MsJS | February 1, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

@edbyronadams: "...the insane idea that government is the fountain of goodness..."

Actually, I thought the electorate has become more accustomed to the insane idea that government is the fountain of evil. I would say that it is not a fountain of anything -- metaphorically, it is a wrench, or a hammer, or a pocket multi-tool. It can be used wisely to do good, it can be used stupidly to do evil. "Government", at least democratic government, is morally neutral. It is the people who have to take the blame for the actions of government. So, I sort of agree with you on the policy results, but we start from different axioms. Which, I guess, is the basis for effective nonpartisan solutions.

You should be aware that your contempt for governmental processes is hardly original nor of purely recent vintage. Consider this quotation from Twain: "Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." He was not original in this philosophy, either, but he was pithy.

Posted by: ScienceTim | February 1, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

ftb, some of your syntax is impenetrable to me. However, power is the important thing, primarily to those in power but, once again, it is not the "other" that is the problem. Your member of Congress wants to keep his job too. It doesn't matter whether they have a D or an R after their name. It takes money to do that and that fact compromises much of their considerations about public service.

I do want smaller government but I do not except our giant military machine. I can't find a good reason why we maintain a supply base in the Indian Ocean or why we carry the defense needs of many prosperous nations in the world. My objection to the health care bill is that we can't afford it. It adds another burden on to young people that will hamper them economically, just as the inherited debt will.

Instead of an across the board cut, I would like a formula that cut government programs proportionally depending on their age. The newest get cut a lot and the oldest little.

We can't get out of our hole by "soaking the rich". They are too few and, during a recession, scarcer than hen's teeth.

Posted by: edbyronadams | February 1, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

I don't remember Joel being so concerned about the deficit during the Bush years, when Bush cut taxes for the super-rich and started two wars. Seems to me Republicans were saying deficts didn't matter then. Oh, I just turned up something with Google:
"Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was told "deficits don't matter" when he warned of a looming fiscal crisis.

"O'Neill, fired in a shakeup of Bush's economic team in December 2002, raised objections to a new round of tax cuts and said the president balked at his more aggressive plan to combat corporate crime after a string of accounting scandals because of opposition from "the corporate crowd," a key constituency."

"O'Neill said he tried to warn Vice President Dick Cheney that growing budget deficits-expected to top $500 billion this fiscal year alone-posed a threat to the economy. Cheney cut him off. "You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don't matter," he said, according to excerpts. Cheney continued: "We won the midterms (congressional elections). This is our due." A month later, Cheney told the Treasury secretary he was fired."

Posted by: seasea1 | February 1, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

edbyronadams, it's the middle class that is shrinking. The super-rich are doing fine. The malarkey about giving them tax cuts to spur the economy has been proven untrue time after time.

Posted by: seasea1 | February 1, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I am not disputing that the super rich are doing fine. Who could dispute a definition? My point is that if you confiscated everything the super rich possess, it would not make a significant dent in the federal deficit.

Posted by: edbyronadams | February 1, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Are we up for some rich soaking? Her's where they live-

and here's a good reason for some soaking-

Posted by: kguy1 | February 1, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

let me get this straight. my middle class income is taxed at an approximate rate of 30% and exxon's is taxed at 10%. did i get that right? and the supremes just decided that me and exxon are both just persons, right? and you're axing me if washington is currently dysfunctional?

the blogtrollers won't let me put this in 72 point typeface, so just imagine it.



sorry...breathe in breathe will be's all good...breathe in breathe out...

Posted by: butlerguy | February 1, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

According to ed's theory, we should drastically reduce spending for more recent things like research into flu epidemics and vaccinations, but not significantly touch older programs like funding Lewis and Clark.

And I say huzzah! I told Jefferson a couple of times that Bill and Merri and I didn't have enough cash to make it through the winter unless we hunkered down in that Mandan village all damn winter.

Also, we need to keep building those lighthouses, even out there in the territories. And if Fremont ever makes it out to California, he's gonna needs supplies and stuff.

I'm with ya, ed. First in, last out, that's what I say.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 1, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

q-ma, that's a delightfully Zen approach to things, glad to have you on board! :-)

Posted by: Scottynuke | February 1, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

What happens in the current regime is things like parks get cut because they are seen as elistist while entitlements, the 800 lb. gorilla gets everything he wants.

The newest spare tire on that guy is the drug benefits enacted during the Bush administration.

Posted by: edbyronadams | February 1, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Yeah but Exxon is now just one guy according to the SCOTUS, so Exxon can not contribute more than you or I, right? Let's see now, that would be

$2,400 per Election to a Federal candidate -- Each primary, runoff, and general election counts as a separate election.
$30,400 per calendar year to a national party committee -- applies separately to a party's national committee, and House and Senate campaign committee.
$10,000 per calendar year to state, district & local party committees
$5,000 per calendar year to state, district & local party committee
Aggregate Total -- $115,500 per two-year election cycle as follows:

$45,600 per two-year cycle to candidates
$69,000 per two-year cycle to all national party committees and PACs
NOTE: Married couples are considered to be separate individuals with separate contribution limits.

So unless there's a Mrs. Exxon (maybe she kept her maiden name of Mobil) that's the limit on what they can contribute. Suuuuuuuuure it is.

Posted by: kguy1 | February 1, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Now now.

edbyronadams always posts respectfully and appropriately, and I value hearing from those whose views differ from the majority here. He also makes the valid point that more heavily taxing the super-rich won't solve the deficit problem, even if it is the right thing to do.

Posted by: Yoki | February 1, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry, be happy! :0) By the time, the debt gets so great that the country fails. Everyone over the age of 50 will be dead anyway and since you will be dead by then spend that money baby (boomer).... Spend that money!!!

Posted by: dirtyoleman | February 1, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse


In the long run, we're all dead.

I'm not sure that is original to me.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 1, 2010 1:04 PM | Report abuse

You know, the more I read Joel's kit today the more I like it. The dirty little secret is that the overwhelming drivers of our deficit are matters of law. These are things that will happen unless laws are changed. They are not discretionary according to who is in the White House. They can only be changed by legislation in Congress.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 1, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

We can't be out of money! There are still checks in the checkbook.

Posted by: sheehanjc | February 1, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone know what a $1.3T budget is as a percentage of GDP? That's probably the best index of how big it really is. Using current dollars, everything will always be the biggest ever...

Prior to the last couple of years, the highest peace time total Federal expenditures and biggest deficits (as a percentage of GDP) were in the Reagan years.

Are we as bad as Reagan yet?

Posted by: rawebb1 | February 1, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

kguy, re. the Supreme Court ruling, IIRC, there's nothing stopping Exxon/Mobil from commissioning - and paying for- James Cameron to make a $700M 3 -hour 3D epic motion picture that says "Candidate X is a Dunderhead," and showing it at every movie theater in the land, on PPV TV, or even purchasing a block of prime time on one of the networks to show it (and giving out 3 glasses at WalMart and 7-11). Not a direct campaign contribution (which is regulated by law), but (as I interpret the Supreme Court's ruling) an expression of free speech.

It makes me a little sick to think about, and it's even completely Tweetable.


Posted by: -bc- | February 1, 2010 1:20 PM | Report abuse

SCC: "... giving out 3D glasses at WalMart..."



Posted by: -bc- | February 1, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Given that the top few percent hold well over half the wealth, edbyronadams, your assumptions are in error when you say "My point is that if you confiscated everything the super rich possess, it would not make a significant dent in the federal deficit." It will not make a difference in the Federal *debt*, but it will affect the deficit considerably. Paying off the total debt will take a very long time.

I agree with you that spending cuts are needed as well as revenue increase. More accurately, I would say that spending redirection is needed. The problem with spending cuts is that *somebody* was depending on that money as a source of income. The only way you can get net success through spending cuts is if that money were going to someone who did not really need it (say, as tax rebates to the super-rich, but there are other examples) or if the money were going outside the country and thus outside the parameters of the calculation. Even if I stipulate that some chunk of government spending is unnecessary, you have the problem after cutting it that there will then be unemployed persons who did not previously have a place in the private economy. Since we are not yet a heartless society, we will still need a way to keep the same number of mouths fed. If that can be done by appropriately encouraging private industry, that's great -- but remember that "encouragement" usually means spending. Accomplishing small government and reduced spending in the long run may require increased spending in the short run in order to create an economic niche that does not exist right now.

Posted by: ScienceTim | February 1, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Wow! So, it is a LOT of money, isn't it? The scariest part of the budget-think is how non-think it is. Talk about 10 years from now? Did you see 9-11 coming 10 years ago? How about Iraq? Kuwait? Or another Katrina? How would we handle those AGAIN considering we have are (really... don't kid yourself) broke?

Posted by: chasovnya | February 1, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Yello: the quote is attributed to Keynes.

Rawebb: A graph showing annual deficit as a percentage of GDP.

And another one showing annual federal spending as a percentage of GDP.

I post without verbal comment. My stomach, however, is commenting about a deficit of lunch.

Posted by: MsJS | February 1, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Science Tim,
I'm not sure whether the US is "not yet a heartless society." I heard the phrase "no right to health care" repeatedly in recent months.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 1, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

I disagree... taxing the rich will heavily assist our normal government balance. You have no clue how much money was transferred to the rich. It is a popular comeback to say that the amount is inconsequential, but it isn't.

Posted by: russianthistle | February 1, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Hi. Drifting back to last kit, although it's still budget related, I'm a little saddened by NASA's apparent lack of direction. ISS was one of the first things I ever worked on professionally. Intellectually I've always known it would one day end as a fire ball into the ocean, but I'd always hoped it would be part of a chain of something a little more ambitious. For me, commercial space applications just don't grab the imagination the same way as exploration, especially manned exploration. Robotic exploration is very practical but somehow, without the people following...*sigh*

Then again, for perspective, a lot of European colonisation attempts were made decades or even a century after the first voyages. And their destinations was already inhabitable (and inhabited). Still a permanent moon base should have been well within our reach, and it would have been a logical place to go after low earth orbit. SciTim did a very nice job of explaining what it could look like.

Posted by: qgaliana | February 1, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Hurricanes will no longer be windfalls.

When one of the south Florida urban areas gets smashed up, much of the cost will be borne within Florida.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 1, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

I think "no right to health care" is much easier to say when you do not have a (possibly) illegal migrant worker standing in front of you carrying a sick or injured child who needs immediate medical attention, no time to check immigration status before deciding whether to extend that medical care. Until our society changes a great deal further, there is no such thing as "no right to health care", there is only "no right to intelligently managed health care." You would think that intelligently managed health care, since it holds the promise of substantially reduced overall cost to society, would be more popular than it is.

Posted by: ScienceTim | February 1, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

That second graph shows federal spending steadily declining under Clinton and then rising sharply under Bush. Deficit spending stayed within the bound of historical levels until our stimulus package kicked in (or revenue crashed from the recession, depending on how you want to look at it).

Posted by: yellojkt | February 1, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

The alternative is?

Posted by: slim2 | February 1, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

The budget message from the NASA Administrator has just arrived in my email. Time for some reading...

Posted by: ScienceTim | February 1, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I think Ezra Klein pointed out that health care reform had been seen as a way to save the government from the runaway costs of stupidly non-managed health care. No matter. Everyone's now sure that health care reform is unaffordable.

The British achieved national health care when the public became outraged that people were being turned away by doctors for inability to pay. In the US, we seem to be moving in exactly the opposite direction, toward a belief that it's impossible to offer health care to everyone.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | February 1, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

Achenbach: What's great about debt is we don't have to repay until the future, which might not even happen.

Yes, that was Bush & Republicans' mantra as they passed UNFUNDED bills for 2 wars, tax cuts for the wealthy, Medicare D, tax breaks for corporations that sent our jobs overseas.....

Now that Republicans out of power - they scream about debt and deficit!

Posted by: angie12106 | February 1, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Does this mean Blue States will no longer subsidize Red States?

Posted by: angie12106 | February 1, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

I am sad to report that I don't know how to debate what we REALLY should do anymore. I'm comforted that many of my friends seem even less able to speak sensibly but their nonsense is delivered more forcefully than mine is right now.

I'm staring at news of ridiculous debts, job losses, climate change, etc.... and watching my President pressing ever larger commitments and being stymied by teh party that wasted my money on whatever it deemed necessary for a decade and congressman niggling for handouts, and yet everyone believes everyone else is to blame.

I elected Obama because I believed he would make real decisions and press for what his analysis and judgement said was right to do. I see no better alternative on "Right" and frankly noone willing to govern by their slogans... yet I don't know if Obama is right in his judgement.

I gave Bush 3 years before withdrawing my support and I will stick to my decision on our current President.

Posted by: Rickster623 | February 1, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Even if the President wanted to radically change the tax system, do you think he would be able to given the current climate?

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 1, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

That is, I'm sure he *wants* to, given how much it favors the wealthiest. But he knows that any such legislation would get shot down.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 1, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I see I'm not the only one to notice that the press and especially the editorial boards are suddenly tut-tutting about deficits. This would make them, I suppose, grasshoppers. (I liked MsJS's charts links.)

Posted by: Jumper1 | February 1, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

The alternative is?

Posted by: slim2 |

Weimar Republic levels of hyper-inflation are great for evaporating a debt base. Except you only get to do that once because nobody will ever buy bonds denominated in your currency again.

And it still doesn't address any structural deficit spending problems.

Posted by: yellojkt | February 1, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Taxing the very rich may not solve the deficit problem -- but it would make ME feel much better. And that's quite important. I never said I wasn't vindictive and bloodthirsty. I freely admit it.

Posted by: curmudgeon6 | February 1, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Obama and the Democrats have an ace card in the hole on this. They know that there will be no future after Dec. 12, 2012.
Spend now!
No pay later!

Posted by: fgoepfert1 | February 1, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

don't be fooled by the similarity of sound between million, billion and trillion. There's a colossal difference. How old are you, in seconds? You reach a million within the first month; a billion by around 31 years; and a trillion seconds within 31,000 years. By 33,010 A.D., maybe we'll have this deficit paid off and start lowering the national debt, right? Psst: ever think about reducing the colossal military budget, something Eisenhower warned us about 50 years ago?!

Posted by: Spiritof761 | February 1, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

It is an incompetent group (Congress and Administration regardless of party)running a totally dysfunctional governement.

Posted by: staterighter | February 1, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

The US $ still being the world's reserve currency even that would be difficult yello. A small devaluation might help a little though, to make imports more expensive and exports a little cheaper.

The unfunded public health care cost is the elephant in the room (how charming that the gunmint insures the most risky population!) but other big ticket items could be loooked at as well. The US spends more than the rest of the world together on military expenses. It's not all aid-to-Haiti or boots on the ground in Afghanistan. The non-NASA space program is reportedly bigger than NASA's. It's probably worth a look at.

Ditto for agriculture subsidies.

10 billions here, 10 billions there pretty soon we are talking about real money.

Anyway help is on the way. "Jeb Bush is back, and some think he's looking presidential"

Posted by: shrieking_denizen | February 1, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Even more cool is $1,000,000,000,000 PLUS spent on a wrongheaded war! Because, for all the innocent, but dead, people, the future is definitely not going to happen! Yippee! Dick Cheney for Reich Fuhrer! Sara Palin for Minister of Information!

And I wanna see the Muslim's birth certificate!!

Posted by: AIPACiswar | February 1, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

staterighter You understand that when you say dysfunctional government you are essentially speaking about YOURSELF, if YOU ran it?

Clean water, safe drugs, safe food, proper highways, a Coast Guard, our military, the National Parks, the FBI, on and on the government does amazing work in many areas. You are just a simple minded dope!

Posted by: AIPACiswar | February 1, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Checking out some of the rancor around the blogosphere, I am amazed at how ignorant many people are about the budget.

There seems to be this sense that the President opens up a blank spreadsheet and allocates spending with total freedom. But this isn't how it works. He really doesn't have as much freedom as we assume.

It's like a household budget with a fixed mortgage, a car payment, a college loan, and that lien from an unfortunate court ruling. Oh, and by the way, you aren't getting any of that extra overtime this year.

Only then is one free to allocate the remaining funds. Which really means how much to put on the credit card.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 1, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

New kit. But I ain't touching it.

Posted by: RD_Padouk | February 1, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

OK, stomach happy. back to the US budget.

I look at the FY 2011 figures and say eh. It's what is being proposed for future that gets my attention.
--Annual deficits remaining above recent levels til 2020.
--$8.5T to be added to the national debt during the decade. By contrast, Warren Buffet's net worth last fall was estimated at $40B. That means we'd need 212.5 Buffets to wipe out the projected additional deficit, but the current deficit would remain untouched.

Conclusion: I look at it and think it's not a matter of who's ethically or morally or politically even economically correct. It's about who's better at the game. This is, after all, just a mammoth casino.

Posted by: MsJS | February 1, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

The Obama-Bush team has a massive army to feed and support. The farmer gives a portion of his crops to the Warlord, who in turn provides a measure of protection. As the population grows, more policing is needed and more resources plundered. Therefore, more food must be taken from the farmer to support everyone else (most of whom are not farmers). Reducing the population? Don't be silly, what would the farmer do?

Posted by: cloudyone | February 1, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Why is there very little said about social security and medicare spending? The two combined with the interest payment on the debt consume virtually all of the tax revenue. Everything else, defense and discretionary spending are on the credit card. To balance the budget we will have to cut out discretionary budget items and defense, or cut social security and medicare by a trillion and a half, or raise taxes by about 70 - 80%. Of course an improved economy would be helpful, but I am not sure it could really close the deficit hole.

Posted by: dkliewer | February 1, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

No businessman should be forced to keep a slacker onboard. But lots of hard workers get the sack just because profits are not big enough. No comeuppance for the businessman. Plenty of consequences for the sacked: severly reduced income and loss of health insurance, not to mention the severe mental depression to comes with being sacked. The governments that fund themselves by helping themselves to a large fraction of our incomes should be outraged at the loss of income tax that follows a sacking. But they couldn't care less.

Posted by: BlueTwo1 | February 1, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how much of the budget is the debt repayment. Now we get to see how much the real cost (in $$$) for the two wars that were started by the rethuglikon crime cabal who occupied the White House for eight years. Now the rethugs are fiscal conservatives. I could puke from hearing their drivel. I guess the rethuglikon shell game is being exposed now.

Posted by: numbers28 | February 1, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

I think the federal governnemnt should impose a value added tax of 10%. That is about 1.3 trillion every year until the federal debt is paid off. VAT should be used only to wipe out the past sins of mainly prsesidents GHB, GWB and BHO. Clinton was left out of the list because not only did he balance the budget he had surplus. Otherwise, just to service the federal debt will need 1-2 trillion every year in merely few years--everything else will have nothing left to spend for. Frightening!

Posted by: ere591 | February 1, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Everyone has been trashing Alito, but he has the right idea. We need to scrap the current system of campaign contributions and return the old system of 40 years ago when a few big contributors basically "owned" the political process.

Think about it, 40 years ago Congressmen were personally corrupt but basically ran the government for the benefit of the country as a whole rather than special interests. If there was pork barrel spending, it was paid for. How was this possible?

Basically, we now have "too much democracy". Due to the utilization of thousands of small contributors, Congress can do nothing without offending someone. They're paralyzed and nothing is done. In the past, big money crowded out small money. Things got done.

We're going to have globalization and corporate control anyway. Progressivism is dead. It's to our benefit that the costs of the Federal government be paid for, either with taxes or spending cuts, or both. The best way to insure that this happens sooner than later is to repeal all limits on campaign contributions, for everyone who is a US citizen using funds earned in the US, as long as there is full disclosure.

Posted by: ripvanwinkleincollege | February 1, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

I wonder what portion of government revenues come from income taxes, and what from everything else? That is, will revenues increase sustainably when jobs do? I doubt it.

Posted by: Yoki | February 1, 2010 9:28 AM
Hate to break your fantasy but according to the IRS 47% of working Americans do not pay Federal Taxes which means, of course that 53% do.

The percentage that do pay taxes will continue to decrease as the percentage who don't pay taxes will increase by continueing to exempt special interest groups.

The affect is already felt in Oregon. Those deemed by the majority to be super wealthy, ie $125k single or $250k married, now get to pay a greater share of the tax burden.

Clearly the best financial strategy is to position oneself to take advange of the tax code and move oneself into the group that does not pay taxes.

Then one could vote for new roads, universal health care, and many other entitlements without the worry of paying for it.

Posted by: krankyman | February 1, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

According to the White House summeries, the net interest on the debt is $188 billion or about 5% of the proposed budget. Not much of a budget buster - so far; but it will be in the future.

Posted by: dkliewer | February 1, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Science fiction version: Rebuilding after the plague.

3.79 X 10^12 square miles x 640 Acres per square mile = 2425.6 X 10^12
= 2.4256 X 10^15 acres with how many of those acres including fresh water shore line? How many with salt water shore line?

The cost of demolishing and removing infrastructure [[Thkn]] so as to have a fresh start with airport access and horse trails only linked by internet. With national defense border corders, and state size quarantine grids. Basically a local ownership and control model assuming adequately educated people with the ability to sustain most basic human needs locally. What else able to be delivered by helicopter or air drop from the nearest national defense corridor.

Posted by: randomsample | February 1, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

"In the long run we are all dead" - John Maynard Keynes

Posted by: theFieldMarshall | February 1, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Then you've got those theoretical physicists who say that whatever laws govern this contraption work just as well if time moves backwards as if it moves forwards. I was trying to figure out the implications of this for debtors but kept losing my train of thought, so someone else will have to figure it out.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | February 1, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

What a fun and funny blog Mr. Achenbach: thank you, thank you, thank you!
Very clever and enjoyable.

Posted by: dschalton | February 1, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

"Reagan proved that deficits don't matter," Vice President Richard B. Cheney.

Posted by: MNUSA | February 1, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

No one wants to acknowledge the fact that in the future it may well be impossible for the federal government to be able to borrow money. If one thinks that such an idea is fanciful, I urge them to note that the EU had to step in to enable the Greek government to be able to borrow money. Simply put, they guaranteed the loans. Furthermore, one does not want to note that for every dollar the federal government borrows it either drives up the cost of borrowing for everyone else or makes it imposssible for others to borrow money. What needs to be realized is that at some point the federal government will either have to dramatically raise taxes, perhaps, as much as double them for ordinary hard working Americans. The other option is to embrace policies that dramatically expand the economy. If it embraces this solution, it will have to embrace policies that have been rejected for decades - free trade - and recognize that building a green economy is fanciful thinking. For those who doubt this assertion I advise them to look at Spain. Finally, we need to elect political leaders who will make the hard decisions and look after the well being of ordinary Americans and not promote the interests of either campaign donars and special interests.

Posted by: jeffreed | February 1, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

The author has a point. After all, global warming is going to do us all in, and then what will deficits matter? Right?

Posted by: srpinpgh | February 1, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

Funny thing about just HOW dysfunctional it is: any attempt to change the obvious path to destruction is immediately seized on and stopped. Why? Nobody wants to give the other side credit for fixing anything, coupled with nobody having the guts to actually fix anything. Our government has devolved to two groups of people watching a house burn down. Some from each side periodically stoke the fire, and once in a while some from each side make a move for the fire truck. Once they move toward the fire truck, the others scream and immediately start stoking the fire more and more.

Posted by: steveboyington | February 1, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

***HOW TO END THE RECESSION THIS YEAR*** (without Government spending). PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You NOW have the opportunity to end the Recession by encouraging the Banks to make Prudent CRE Loans. The Banks are now unfettered to make Safe Loans. In large American Cities there are thousands of Major Projects with Entitlements. CRE PRODUCES THE CREATES THE GREATEST NUMBER OF JOBS than any other segment of the Economy. Glass mfg., STEEL INDUSTRY, truckers, architects, brokers, agents, construction workers, electricians, plumbers, office furniture manufacturers....WE COULD HAVE 6% UNEMPLOYMENT WITHIN 4 MONTHS....THERE ARE 140 SHOVEL READY, ENTITLED, PROJECTS OF 70 OR MORE UNITS READY TO GO IN LOS ANGELES, alone!! People will be WORKING FOR 2 YEARS BEFORE THE BUILDINGS ARE COMPLETE; and by then, the Recession will be over and Tenants will Flood the Market to Purchase Modern "green" units, This same scenario is found in Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, Ft. Worth, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Kansas City, Tampa, Providence, Hartford, St. Paul----all across America.

Posted by: MSFT-PELOSI | February 1, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

OK, with the help of a few beers, I've figured out the implications for debtors of the alleged fact (argued by some theoretical physicists) that "The most fundamental laws of nature are time reversal invariant". (In plain English, the basic laws of nature work whether time's going forwards or backwards, according to this theory).

Here it is (are you ready?):

If you've got lots of your own money, you're in good shape.

If you've got lots of someone else's money, you're screwed unless you die (when that's your best hope, you might want to examine Plan B), whether time moves in one direction or the other.

Princeton Economics Department, if you're trying to find me, I'm in Crisfield, Maryland.

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Posted by: ehtyeytikugykryjyuj | February 1, 2010 10:25 PM | Report abuse

I wants some dat Obama Monies, from his Stash.....Obama Obama Obama. We loves Obama.

Posted by: jas7751 | February 1, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

Question for you Archenbach... If you were to look at both parties since from Jimmy Carter to Obama, which party is mostly responsible for both the deficit and the national debt (trust me one only one is responsible for both)? Why is it that you are trying to discuss both as if the country came to life last year. You are either an idiot or an incompetent fool (or both). Your thoughts.

Posted by: fgerald0204 | February 1, 2010 10:54 PM | Report abuse

Question for you Archenbach... If you were to look at both parties from Jimmy Carter to Obama, which party is mostly responsible for both the deficit and the national debt (trust me only one is responsible for both)? Why you are trying to discuss both as if the country came to life last year. You are either an idiot or an incompetent fool (or both). Your thoughts.

Posted by: fgerald0204 | February 1, 2010 10:56 PM | Report abuse


Such angry people.

I like you, douglaslbarber. Not so much the rest. Be easy, others.

Posted by: Yoki | February 1, 2010 11:34 PM | Report abuse

But here's the thing.

I have nothing. I am about to become homeless, lost.

And still, I wish to be kind.

Posted by: Yoki | February 1, 2010 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Run the debt up and have China buy it all or lend us the money. Then when they get more and more obnoxious about their pumped up sense of power, default on them.

Posted by: Mnnngj | February 2, 2010 12:06 AM | Report abuse


Maybe we can freeze ourselves and then come back to life in the future. It’s true that this has happened in science fiction. The rationale behind freezing is simple. If we do nothing, we will deteriorate and die sooner or later. If we are frozen, there is a chance of future survival; hey, you never know what science can bring us in the future.

Really, we can freeze just about anything, including the salary of our congressman, senators, and government officials, the annual increment in Social Security, military spending and so on. And we know already that we can unfreeze everything later.

Default on China? It will probably result in a deep.deep.deep recession and possibly a war between China and US. Oh my, we probably will lose, just think of their population size. The Yellow River might become deep red, they still have more people than us… a horrible thought.

Posted by: q-ma | February 2, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

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