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Opinion

December 5, 2012

Editorial roundup: Of debt, slavery and tobacco

Some views from the editorial pages of other New England newspapers:

Tough future ahead

Chris Cox and Bill Archer submitted a piece in the Wall Street Journal that Americans really should read. Cox is a former chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Archer is a former chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee and is a senior policy adviser at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

The pair says the United States is in far more trouble than most people think. Driving our well-publicized, hotly debated annual deficits are entitlement programs. They represent a small fraction of our overall debt.

That truth is that, in addition to our $17 trillion national debt, we also carry $88 trillion in unfunded pension and health care liabilities. These are liabilities that the government doesn’t report. It’s money the government has promised to federal employees for their retirement and health care as well as the obligations “guaranteed” by Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

Cox and Archer — “The actual liabilities of the federal government — including Social Security, Medicare, and federal employees’ future retirement benefits — already exceed $86.8 trillion, or 550% of GDP. For the year ending Dec. 31, 2011, the annual accrued expense of Medicare and Social Security was $7 trillion. Nothing like that figure is used in calculating the deficit. In reality, the reported budget deficit is less than one-fifth of the more accurate figure.”

The figures, they write, don’t show up in any balance sheet. They have to be extrapolated from the actuarial tables found in the annual Medicare Trustee report. From there Cox found the write-downs — $42.8 trillion (Medicare) and $20.5 trillion (social security).

Forget about how big you want your nanny state. There is not a way to borrow and tax enough to honor these promises.

As the authors conclude, part of the answer begins with honest reporting of these figures. The rest of the solution? Prepare yourself for a tough future.

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