- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2010

The headline above provides the exact amount of outstanding public debt as of Tuesday, according to the latest available figures from the U.S. Treasury. By the time you read this, that figure will have increased by $17,338,324,977.

Massive, abstract numbers such as these defy comprehension. It’s far easier to grasp their personal impact: The share of the enormous total debt figure for each American household is $120,125. That’s up $164 from Tuesday. It’s up $15,445 from last year. It will keep going up until something is done to stop the runaway spending by Congress and the Obama administration.

Most observers would look at this evidence and agree that we have run out of money, but a handful stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the obvious. The latter insist that, somehow, spending more of the public’s money will solve the economic woes brought about in large measure from out-of-control personal and public spending. Such are the people who hold the levers of power in Washington.

So long as they continue to tax away capital for spending on an unproductive government sector, our economy will continue its downward spiral. History is filled with examples of administrations that failed to heed the warning signs and pushed spending beyond the limits.

Ancient Rome’s Emperor Nero, for example, constructed a Golden House so large that contemporary historians described its gilded columns stretching for a mile. Within a few years of taking power, his extravagance had exhausted the treasury of the world’s greatest empire. To keep his stimulus program running - which involved burning and rebuilding Rome itself - Nero turned to property confiscation and debasement of the monetary system. Modern analysis of the empire’s coins show that Nero was the first emperor to secretly mix copper into the money supply, reducing its silver content by as much as 20 percent.

Today’s property confiscation disguises itself in the form of taxes and fees that must increase as the government looks to seize that additional $120,125. As in Rome, the Treasury’s printing of more and more currency of less and less intrinsic worth will inevitably lead to inflation of the sort not seen since the 1970s.

The current debt, however, is the least of our problems. According to the Social Security and Medicare trustees, Social Security has made $17.5 trillion in future promises that it has no money to fulfill. Add to this amount Medicare’s unfunded liabilities of $89.3 trillion, and the grand total is $106.8 trillion. That means each household’s share of current and future debt is a staggering $1.1 million.

This trajectory is obviously unsustainable, and there are alternatives. Instead of creating new entitlements like health care, existing programs must be scaled back and reformed from the ground up. The expense of the federal government must be dramatically slashed so that its books can be brought back into balance. To start, the greatest discretionary savings would come from repealing the civil service protections that serve the unions more than they do the taxpayers. Eliminating the guarantee of a lifetime job would force increased productivity with a slimmed down, less costly work force. Nonessential departments, agencies and programs must also be shuttered.

Such adjustments, though painful, have already taken place across the private sector during the current economic downturn. Why should bureaucrats be immune? To do any less would be to fiddle while America’s debt mounts and your share of it grows.