That means the “sequestration” from defense and discretionary spending will now be enforced, starting in 2013. That would be so brutal and slashing that by 2021 it would reduce U.S. public debt by $153 billion! Which sounds kinda big if you say it in a Dr. Evil voice and give a menacing mwa-ha-ha laugh, but in fact boils down to about what we borrow currently every month.
But don’t worry. Slashing a month’s worth of spending over a decade is way too extreme. So that’s not going to happen, either. Instead, CNN and Meet The Press will just interview bigshot senators and congressmen about it day in, day out, and then normal service will resume: More more more, how do you like it?
In the course of a typical day I usually receive at least a couple of e-mails from readers lamenting that America is now the Titanic. This is grossly unfair to the Titanic, a state-of-the-art ship whose problem was that it only had lifeboat space for about half its passengers. By contrast, the USS Spendaholic is a rusting hulk encrusted with barnacles, there are no lifeboats, and the ship’s officers are locked in a debate about whether to use a thimble or an eggcup.
A second downgrade is now inevitable. Aw, so what? We had the first back in the summer, and the ceiling didn’t fall in, did it? And everyone knows those ratings agencies are a racket, right? And say what you like about our rotten finances, but Greece’s are worse. And Italy’s. And, er, Zimbabwe’s. Probably.
The advantage the United States enjoys is that, unlike Greece, it can print the currency in which its debt is denominated. But, even so, it still needs someone to buy it. The failure of Germany’s bond auction on Wednesday suggests that the world is running out of buyers for Western sovereign debt at historically low interest rates. And, were interest rates to return to their 1990–2010 average (5.7 percent), debt service alone would consume about 40 percent of federal revenues by mid-decade. That’s not paying down the debt, but just staying current on the interest payments.
And yet, when it comes to spending and stimulus and entitlements and agencies and regulations and bureaucrats, “More more more / How do you like it?” remains the way to bet. Will a Republican president make a difference to this grim trajectory? I would doubt it. Unless the public conversation shifts significantly, neither President Romney nor President Insert-Name-of-This-Week’s-UnRomney-Here will have a mandate for the measures necessary to save the republic.
As for Andrea True, back in 1976 she made a commercial in Jamaica. To protest the then–prime minister’s flirtation with Castro, Uncle Sam had imposed economic sanctions against Her Majesty’s government in Kingston. Miss True was unable to bring her earnings home. So, for want of anything better to do with them, she went into a Jamaican recording studio and made a demo of a song: “More More More.” Sure, 35 years later Fidel’s still around, but at least the world got a disco hit out of it, which is more than you can say for the Iranian sanctions.
We’re approaching a state in which the government spends $4 trillion but only raises $2 trillion. Which is an existential threat to the nation, but at least has the advantage of being one whose arithmetic is simple enough even for politicians: Try to imagine every aspect of government having to make do with half of what it currently has.
That’s the scale of reform necessary to save America from a future as a bankrupt, violent, Third World ruin. More more more, how do you like it? More poverty, more crime, more corruption, more decay: How do you like that?
Flirting with Castroite policies? Maybe Washington could impose economic sanctions against itself.
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2011 Mark Steyn