The Collapse of America? The Dire Message of Mr. David Walker

by | Aug 28, 2009 | POLITICS

A person who is in the pay of the government is not always free to speak publicly about the most pressing issues he confronts. Administrators who are appointed to perform specific tasks are generally not free to contradict or even to challenge policies. They often cannot advocate for specific proposals, even if they think that […]

A person who is in the pay of the government is not always free to speak publicly about the most pressing issues he confronts. Administrators who are appointed to perform specific tasks are generally not free to contradict or even to challenge policies. They often cannot advocate for specific proposals, even if they think that such proposals will be needed to prevent catastrophe.

When Dr. Alan Carlin, a federal Environmental Protection Agency official, wrote a report in March, 2009 that criticized the EPA’s process of formulating regulations, the report was squashed both internally and publicly. Emails from EPA officials state that “a very negative impact on our office” made use of the report impossible. To protect the bureaucracy, Dr. Carlin was told to cease his criticisms.

Such officials must often make a choice: to remain silent and keep their jobs, or to resign and speak the truth. Faced with this dilemma, on March 12, 2008, David Walker chose to resign.

David Walker is the former Comptroller General of the United States, and former head of the Government Accountability Office. As the nation’s chief accountant he was appointed by President Clinton. He resigned near the end of George W. Bush’s second term. He had no authority to decide how a single penny of government funds should be collected or distributed. His job was to count those funds.

Mr. Walker’s enormous range of mind extends far beyond a single budget year. His long-range perspective allows him to project fiscal trends decades into the future, and to assess, through simulations, the impacts of policy decisions beyond their immediate effects. He truly understands the economic maxim, promoted by Henry Hazlitt, to look beyond the visible effects of any given policy and to consider its unseen consequences.

When Walker plotted these trends, and considered demographics among many other factors, what he found was “chilling.” If fundamental reforms are not begun now, he concluded, the United States will experience a financial and political collapse comparable to the fall of Rome.

In a presentation to the National Press Foundation, January 17, 2008, Mr. Walker brought forth the following facts and projections:

1.  From 1966 to 2006, the percentage of federal funds spent on Medicare rose from 1% to 19%. This trend will grow exponentially as millions of “baby boomers” enter the entitlement pool.

2.  For the same period, spending for mandated government commitments rose from 26% to 53% of the total budget. The budget is increasingly out of the control of government officials.

3.  As of 2007, Medicare is running in arrears. In 2017 Social Security will be in deficit. By the year 2040, Medicare and Social Security alone will be running annual deficits of nearly 900 billion dollars.

4. Medicare spending from now until 2032 will be 235% of economic growth. By 2040, Medicare will be spending about 10% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product annually, and the annual deficits of the United States will total some 20% of the total Gross Domestic Product. 

The bottom line is this: mandated fiscal entitlements, projected into the future, are over 52,000 billion dollars. That will equal 90% of all household wealth in the U.S., and will place a burden of over 450 thousand dollars on every household in the land. This is almost ten times the present median household income level.

Mr. Walker concludes that “We face large and growing structural deficits largely due to known demographic trends and rising health care costs.” Further, “GAO’s simulations show that balancing the budget in 2040 could require actions as large as cutting total federal spending by 60 percent, or raising federal taxes to two times today’s level.”

To close the revenue gap through growth, the United States economy would need to expand in the double-digit range for the next seventy-five years. During the boom years of the 1990s, the economy grew at an average rate of 3.2%. Walker concludes, succinctly: “we cannot simply grow our way out of this problem.”

Health care entitlements constitute by far the largest single piece of this economic disaster. Those who think that creating thousands of billions of dollars in new government entitlements–in a health care bill that adds tens of millions of Americans to government programs–will do anything except hasten the coming bankruptcy are out of touch with reality.

Mr. Walker has taken his show on the road, in an attempt to educate Americans about the financial disaster they are creating. He was accompanied by both the Brookings Institute on the left, and the Heritage Foundation on the right. He stresses that this coming financial meltdown is known by everyone in Washington–but no one wants to acknowledge it. 

The Rasmussen poll shows that almost twice as many Americans think that cutting the deficit, rather than health care reform, should be the president’s top priority. Another poll shows that twice as many people think that the reform legislation will drive up costs than think it will lower costs. Perhaps these Americans grasp Mr. Walker’s point better than their elected representatives do.

A nation that violates the rights of its citizens cannot, in the long run, escape the consequences of its moral failure. When a nation with the unique strength of the United States does so systematically and over decades, the results must necessarily be catastrophic. The dire economic forecast of David Walker illustrates the connection between the moral and the practical. To regain our economic viability we must regain our moral viability.

John David Lewis (website) is a Visiting Professor of Political Science, Duke University. He has been a Senior Research Scholar in History and Classics at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, and an Anthem Fellow.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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