Monday 27 December 2010

How America can climb out of the hole: the first step is seeing the light

Bruce Bartlett in the Fiscal Times (htp: Michael Panzner) submits a first-class, balanced essay on how the mess can be straightened out.

The key first step, he says, is to introduce honest financial reporting on the basis that corporations have to use, i.e. accrual accounting, for this will reveal the future economic effects of policy decisions made today. Doing so will help policymakers to make sensible adjustments and the public to accept them.

And it's not all bad news: for example, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed by President Obama into law on 23 March 2010, is projected to save $15 trillion over the next 75 years. Raising the State Retirement Age and modifying other social benefits could bring the budget back into balance, long-term.

It won't be painless. If America starts to retrench now, the estimated cost is 2.4% of GDP. But delay merely magnifies the problem - a decade of further obfuscation and inaction raises the bar to 3.7% of GDP.

It is most fortunate that the US Government is required by law to produce a financial report of the kind that makes Mr Bartlett's comments possible. This law was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966, one thing at least for which future generations must thank him.

Over the last few years, I have found it far easier to get useful information about the economy of the USA than about that of the UK where I live. Here, the truth seems harder to establish and dissent increasingly crushed. For although there is guff-talk about our being citizens, essentially we are merely subjects whenever it pleases our masters. Absent overruling by the courts of the European Union (itself a highly undemocratic organisation), our civil rights and liberties could be abolished at a stroke by the Privy Council, the legacy of the Anglo-Saxon kings' witan, or committee of high-born advisers (and potential rivals for the throne).

Long live the American Constitution: for all your well-founded instinctive distrust of power and authority, and for all the powerful businesses that lobby against any change that might slow their own accumulation of wealth at the expense of the citizens, Uncle Sam is still a people's government - so long as the people take an interest.

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