Like his sub-three-hour marathon, Mr. Ryan's budgetary plan is fantastic given our country's current demographic circumstances that include an aging population, rising medical costs and needs for continued and expanded investment in infrastructure and human capital.
The fact that our federal spending in the past has been lower than 20 percent of GDP is irrelevant. The United States has a different demography and citizens with different needs and desires than it had in the past, and nostalgia for the federal budget of the past should not romanticize collective needs left unfulfilled in prior eras. Moreover, this arbitrary cap on federal spending would be far more reasonable if Mr. Ryan could point to a country other than ours that has both a high standard of living and similar constraints on government spending.
The fact that Mr. Ryan's goal of a 20 percent limit on federal spending is taken seriously reflects poorly on our political leaders, our media and our citizenry. Does the difference between American free-market capitalism and un-American, European-style democratic socialism really occurs between the 20 percent of GDP that Mr. Ryan wants as the ceiling to federal spending and the 24 percent advocated by people like Jeffrey Sachs in "The Price of Civilization"? If so, we're curious to know precisely where the tipping point is.
Our country requires an honest conversation about needs, resources and goals. If our debt is a truly existential problem, we should do what it takes to solve that problem, whether it means more revenue, less spending or a combination of both, and we should discuss how broadly those burdens of diminished services and increased taxes should be shared. We should acknowledge that a little more than a decade ago, before a large economic downturn, tax cuts and two unpaid-for wars we had a federal surplus.
If we desire to come back into fiscal balance, we should also base our decisions on facts, not bold, confident and incorrect assertions that, for example, erroneously presume more government spending is a bad thing. (It can be a good thing, if money is spent wisely.) Or that higher tax rates lead to lower growth. (We've had higher growth with higher tax rates in the past, and other countries have higher growth with higher tax rates.)
Our expectations should reflect our real abilities rather than our grand delusions. We should be proud of the race that our actual abilities allow us to run.
Howard (04:27:37) is an associate professor, and White (03:29:42) is a professor, both of political science, at Concord University.