America’s fiscal outlook is disastrous, but forgotten

It was not so long ago that the hottest topic in American politics was the ballooning national debt. In 1992 Ross Perot had the best showing for a third-party candidate in a presidential election since 1912 on a platform of fiscal probity. Two years later the Republicans seized control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, with the first item in their “Contract with America” being a pledge to balance the budget. Bill Clinton easily won re-election two years after that, in part by negotiating spending cuts with Republicans that led to America’s first surpluses in a generation.

At the start of this fiscal hullabaloo, in 1992, America’s net debt amounted to 46% of GDP. Today it has reached 96% of GDP. For the past five years, under first Donald Trump and then Joe Biden, the federal deficit has averaged 9% of GDP a year. The International Monetary Fund says that America’s borrowing is so vast it is endangering global financial stability. S&P and Fitch, two credit-rating agencies, have already downgraded America’s debt; a third, Moody’s, is threatening to.

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