Debt, Diversion, Distraction: …So, about that supposed debt crisis…
Yes, the population is getting older, which means more spending on Medicare and Social Security. But … quite a few baby boomers are already drawing on those programs; by 2020 we’ll be about halfway through the demographic transition, and current estimates don’t suggest a big budget problem.
Why, then, do you see projections of a large debt increase? The answer lies not in a known factor — an aging population — but in assumed growth in health care costs and rising interest rates. And the truth is that we don’t know that these are going to happen. In fact, health costs have grown much more slowly since 2010 than previously projected, and interest rates have been much lower. As the chart above shows, taking these favorable surprises into account has already drastically reduced long-run debt projections. These days the long-run outlook looks vastly less scary than people used to imagine. …
…yes, it’s possible that we may at some point in the future have to cut benefits. But deficit scolds talk as if they offer a way to avoid this fate, when in fact their solution to the prospect of future benefit cuts is … to cut future benefits. …
By putting the debt question aside, we are NOT in any material way making the future worse. And that is a total contrast with climate change, where our failure to act means pouring vast quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, materially increasing the odds of catastrophe with every year we wait.
So my message to the deficit scolds is this: yes, we may face some hard choices a couple of decades from now. But we might not, and in any case there aren’t any choices that must be made now. Meanwhile, there are genuinely scary things happening as we speak, which we should be taking on but aren’t. And your fear-mongering is distracting us from these real problems. Therefore, I would respectfully request that you people just go away.