The Floundering of America

 

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, columnist William Galston talks about “The Floundering of America”.  Based on recent reports from the Congressional Budget Office, Mr. Galston says that “Today we are hurtling toward a less dynamic economy, a meaner society and a riskier world.”
His argument is based on these observations:

  • For the past 40 years, 1970-2010, the labor force expanded at an average rate of 1.6% per year.  It will soon slow to only .4% annual growth, because of more retirements and a plateauing of women’s labor-force participation. This means that growth in GDP will slow down to about 2% annually from its historical average of over 3%.
  • America is aging very fast.  Today there are 57 million Social Security beneficiaries which will increase to 76 million in 2023.  Obviously this will rapidly increase entitlement spending on retirees.
  • America already spends 18% of GDP on healthcare costs and the CBO projects that this will grow to 22% by 2038.

“In sum, current trends and policies will yield lower rates of economic growth, painfully slow gains in real incomes, huge increases in outlays for expenses related to an aging population, and a health sector that devours more and more of the national product”, he says.
These trends are all contributing to an explosion of the national debt.  The only current strategy to keep this debt even roughly stable during the next decade, let alone reduce it, is to shrink discretionary spending through sequestration.  This will lead to a decline in discretionary spending to 5.3% of GDP by 2023.  This means roughly 2.6% of GDP for national defense with an equal share or all other domestic purposes.
“This is pure folly”, says Mr. Galston. “The country needs a new national strategy for a viable future.”
How do we achieve a new strategy?  Immigration reform will increase the size of the workforce.  Tax reform could boost the economy by encouraging business expansion, risk taking and entrepreneurship.  True (consumer-driven) healthcare reform could dramatically lower the cost of healthcare.  In other words there are potential policies out there that address our national floundering. We simply need leaders who are capable of going beyond partisanship in order to help create a better future!

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