Whoever wins this year's presidential election may feel a lot like storied conservative thought-leader William F. Buckley Jr. when he ran for mayor of New York City in 1965, according to political observer George Will. When asked what he would do if he were elected, Buckley replied, "Demand a recount."
Speaking at the 3rd annual Innovative Alternative Strategies conference in Denver, Will recalled the Ernest Hemingway character, Mike Campbell, who was asked how he went bankrupt and said it happened "gradually and then suddenly."
In 1916, Will noted, the richest man in America, John D. Rockefeller, could have written a personal check and retired the national debt. Today, Bill Gates could liquidate his entire net worth and pay off two months' interest on the national debt.
Since 2007, about $7 trillion in U.S. home equity has been vaporized and unemployment would stand at 10.9% if the labor force hadn't been subjected to statistical reductions. "We're replicating the mistakes of the New Deal" when unemployment never got below 14%, Will told the audience.
That leads to the death spiral of the welfare state, where taxes must go up to pay ever increasing unemployment costs. Young people who can't find work delay marriage and conceiving children, leading to population stagnation so that eventually there are not enough adults to support the burgeoning entitlement society.
On top of that the U.S. has built its economy on consumption, accounting for 70% of GDP, which creates its own set of problems, according to Will. Savings shrunk from 9% of GDP in the 1980s to 5% of GDP in the 1990s and went negative in 2005.
Many Americans have multiple credit cards, and the nation has separated the pleasure of consumption from the pain of paying for it. Since the Great Recession began, household debt has fallen from 133% to 114% of GDP. IN 1980, it was about 45%.
"We are now confronting a most predictable problem," Will said. On January 1, 2008, baby boomers started turning 62. You know how that story goes.
Because the welfare state exists, older people vote disproportionately. Despite all the media coverage of youngsters voting for President Obama in 2008, 40% of the vote that year came from folks over 50 years old, Will said.
The fastest-growing age cohort is the over-85 group, and Will said their health-care costs are five times higher than those of a typical 55 year old. "In 1941 when I was born, the principal expense of a hospital was clean linen," Will said. "Sooner or later, the economy will start growing [again] and we'll spend it on health care."