Twenty-three point nine trillion dollars.
That will be our national debt in 2022 under the fiscal-cliff bill that just passed Congress. That’s nearly $4 trillion more than the current-law baseline, and while most of that comes from making the Bush tax cuts permanent for most Americans without offsetting the loss of revenue through spending cuts, at least $330 billion of the new debt results from the increased spending that was part of the deal. Our government debt will amount to more than 118 percent of GDP.
So the deal not only fails to cut spending, it also simply tosses more money on top of the spending increases that were already built into future budgets. Now the federal government will spend $5.5 trillion in 2022, compared with $3.5 trillion this year. We will be spending $2 trillion more per year and facing $1.5 trillion more in debt than if federal spending were to rise commensurate with population growth plus inflation over the next ten years.
And this is only going to get worse after 2022, as entitlements, still unreformed after the cliff deal, explode. By 2050, our national debt will top $58 trillion in today’s dollars. That’s more than double what it would be if the increase in federal spending were limited to inflation plus population growth.
“Republicans focused on taxes, and lost on spending, too.”
How did we end up with this epic failure? In part, it was because Republicans’ fixation on cutting taxes blinded them to the real threat to economic growth and freedom — the growing size of the federal government.
I would be among the first to agree that raising taxes is bad. Tax hikes take more money out of the productive sector of the economy and redistribute it to the non-productive governmental sector, slowing economic growth. The distortions in economic decision-making brought about by those taxes will slow growth and reduce prosperity even further. But even more important, taxes appropriate the property that an individual has justly earned through his labor or ingenuity. Every dollar that the government takes from an individual is one less dollar that he or she can save, invest, or spend as he or she sees fit.