The National Significance of the Municipal Pension Crisis

The New York Times reported yesterday that “Chicago Sees Pension Crisis Drawing Near”.  “A crushing problem lurks behind the signs of economic recovery in Chicago: one of the most poorly funded pension systems among the nation’s major cities. … The pension fund for retired Chicago teachers stands at risk of collapse.”
William Daley, former chief of staff for President Obama and now a Democratic candidate for governor of Illinois says that “Anyone who thinks that this is just a problem on paper, those are the same people who looked at Detroit 20 years ago and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we can handle it.’”  Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, another former chief of staff for President Obama, says that “What the system needs is a hard, cold, dose of honesty.  I understand the anger.  I totally respect it.  You have every right to be angry because there were contracts voted on.  People agreed to something.  But things get updated all the time.”
Just as Chicago and Illinois need a cold dose of honesty about the public pension crisis in that city and state, so does our entire country need a cold dose of honesty about our national fiscal crisis.  Shall we wait 20 years or until this problem explodes in our faces (or our children’s faces), or shall we start to deal with it now, while we can still proceed in a rational manner?
Our current public debt (on which we pay interest) is now $12 trillion.  With artificially low interest rates, we are paying “only” $250 billion annually in interest on this debt. When interest rates resume their historical average of 5%, our annual interest rate will jump to $600 billion.  Where will we find an additional $350 billion per year for interest payments alone?  Will we take it from entitlements, from social services for the poor, from our defense budget?  Or will we just increase our deficit even more to pay for it?  It will have to come from somewhere!
Wake up, America!  Learn from the municipal pension crisis.  Now is the time to get things straightened out.  Further procrastination will have dire consequences.

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