Can America Afford an Empire?

Sheldon Richman
Fiscally speaking, the U.S. government has been running a disorderly house for some time. That makes the fiscal crisis in Greece an uneasy portent for Americans (as Steven Horwitz points out here).
Just contemplate some of the numbers. The total federal debt is nearly $13 trillion, $8.6 trillion of which is held by the public (with the rest held by government entities). (These are conservative estimates, since many government obligations are not counted.) GDP is something over $14 trillion. That ratio of debt to GDP isn’t pretty. “The CBO estimates that at the end of 2020 publicly held debt will be a staggering $20.3 trillion — 90 percent of GDP — with total debt being notably higher than that,” Horwitz writes.
As for the budget deficit, the Congressional Budget Office projects it to exceed a trillion dollars this year and next, bringing it into the neighborhood of 10 percent of GDP. This comes on top of a 2009 deficit of $1.4 trillion — the government spent a buck-ninety for every dollar it collected. The deficit is projected to fall in the years following 2011, before resuming its growth in 2015 and beyond. By 2018 it will be back over $1 trillion, assuming these estimates are not wildly optimistic. Remember, ObamaCare has not kicked in yet.
According to the CBO, the Obama administration will create $9.75 trillion in deficits over the next decade.

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