What are your thoughts on this report -- and on Obama’s vow to cut the deficit in half by the end of his term in office?
I have a question regarding your recent broadcast "Ten Trillion and Counting." How does the United States compare with other developed countries like the UK, France, and Germany with respect to their national debt and how it relates to their GDP. Are we in worse shape or are there others in a similar predicament?
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
The CIA World Factbook tracks the ratio of public debt to GDP. By their count, the United States ranks 22nd, with public debt in 2008 estimated at 60.8 percent of GDP. For more on the difference between gross debt and public debt, click here.
This program is worth a rebroadcast (with adequate publicity). It was very informative. More programs on this topic need to be presented. How is it possible for our government to keep spending money we don't have? Where does the money come from? There is no easy solution--no one wants their taxes raised or programs cut, but as individuals we have to adjust our spending and not continue to incur debt - our government has to do the same. I look forward to airing of "Black Money" - another hair-raising issue.
A little disappointed with the report, but overall it was informative. Have always respected Frontline's somewhat bipartisan objectivity. The tone of this program was not. And why did we have to see so much of Forrest Sawyer's face and pen twirling? I do not remember ever seeing a Frontline with so much involvement from the "correspondent". Please don't let Frontline descend into CNN's pathetic cult of reporter personality infotainment.
Ten Trillion and Counting gave excellent history of the fiscal follies of the Bush and Reagan administrations, but the overall message was extremely wrongheaded: the great economic menace is an increase in the national debt and we should stop deficit spending and balance the budget right away. The message that comes through is that deficit spending is "fiscally irresponsible" and will ruing our future. This is lunacy in a time when unemployment is rising and our productive facilities are shutting down for lack of demand. The immediate menace is putting tens of millions out of work, throwing more millions out of their houses and onto the streets with their children, and reproducing the horrors of the Great Depression. Our real economy is capable of housing, feeding, and providing education and health care for the people. To say that we can't "afford" to do this because we "don't have the money" is a "money illusion." The government government must CREATE the money to restore jobs for all, housing for all, education for all young people, and basic health care for all. It can do that without creating inflation as long as there are unused resources and unused labor. Frontline's clearly implied message is that we can't do anything about the worsening depression because it will raise our national debt. It ignores the fact that we will endure major losses of national income if we don't get employment and production going again. You missed a great opportunity to explain basic Keynesian economics to a frightened and uninformed public - the need for deficit spending in depressions, balanced by government surpluses once the economy is going again. People forget that Keynes urged deficit spending to get out of the depression, but once full employment (by wartime spending) asked for compulsory saving to prevent inflation. Your program ends up spreading ignorance when it might have spread knowledge.
Chapel Hill, NC
Obama keeps saying he "inherited" this economy/budget/deficit/debt mess, referring to the legacy President Bush left him. But what many don't understand, and what Frontline didn't mention is that the Democrats held both Houses of Congress for the last 2 years of President Bush's term in office. I'm not defending President Bush, he put this country in a fiscal spiraling situation we may never recover from, and if we do it will be on the backs of our Great Grandchildren. The platform of the Republican Party is fiscal responsibility and they are indeed guilty of violating that position. But the Democrats have nothing to brag about either since they've held the majority, spending without regard to this Nations future. So Mr. Obama put the blame squarely where it needs to be levied, on both Parties, not only on one.
I really wish Frontline and others would stop with the Obama "inherited" this problem. I don't see how it is constructive to blame Bush and say he left us this mess when the Democrats in Congress are just as much to blame and we as a people are as much to blame. Bush didn't go around constantly saying he inherited al-Qaida from Clinton. Let's get on with the business of running the country and fixing the economy.
Frontline's reports on the national debt is concise. It also conveys the thought that the situation is nearly beyond repair. Not quite so, me thinks. Canadians were in a nearly identical mess a decade ago, albeit for different reasons, but just as frightening. How did they get out of it? They devalued their dollar by 30percent or so boosting exports to the USA primarily, raised taxes, invited foreign industries to establish bases in Canada, ruthlessly cut spending on domestic programs including that for national defense, and so on, in the process educating Canadians that life could be tough. Canada owes a great debt to their Finance Minister at the time, Paul Martin, who pulled this off rather successfully. Americans need to stop their denials and start facing the same similar medicine. The world does not want to see the US sink into an endless morass for fear that it too will sink. But neither are Americans owed a living, especially of a kind unattainable elsewhere. I suspect Pres. Obama knows this. He's got a tough job ahead, but with Americans solidly behind him he, too, can pull it off.
About mid-way through the "Ten Trillion" story, I came to the conclusion that it was a "taxpayer funded ad for higher taxes". If PBS is so hot for taxes, lets start with payroll taxes at PBS.
Interesting PBS program. I don't know that I'd call it "balanced" or "non-partisan". It spent a lot of time laying blame at the feet of George W. Bush, when his spending is less than half of what Obama and the Democrats have put on the books so far. I noticed that the 2008 deficit under Bush was 455 billion, up from 161 billion in 2007. Obama's yearly deficit? 1.7 Trillion dollars and counting. Being an investigative show explaining the explosion of the national debt, shouldn't Obama's new spending have gotten a bit more coverage?
Bush's mistake was not tax cuts, but to allow both the Republican and Democratic majorities in Congress to jack up spending. Letting "Pay-go" expire. Compassionate conservatism I guess. Bad idea. Well, it's only going to get worse with a Democratic President with a Democratic Congress. Much worse. The highest governmental spending since WW2. Quadruple of Bush's highest single deficit year in office, and scheduled to double the total deficit accrued over 200 years as a nation in less than 10. That is mind boggling, yet it barely garnered a minute explanation in this program.
A note on the video regarding Bush tax cuts and the use of "reconciliation" (simple Senate majority vs. 60 votes) in the congress to pass tax cuts. The Democrats in Congress have announced that they will use the same tactic to pass Obama's $3.55 Trillion dollar 2010 spending plan over the objection of Republicans. Which is worse?
Louisville , KY
This program did not cover the true reason we are so in debt. Our government, just like its' citizens, refuses to live within our means. No matter how much money one earns they still spend more than they can afford. We can blame citizens for buying homes, etc. that are more than they can afford, but they have seen government always spending more than they have coming in. This is by far no excuse for any of us living beyond our means. Still most have not learned a lesson, even in this economy.
Government has yet to set a good example. Government should be like good parents, who set good examples for their chidren. We, as good parents cannot permit our children to do something just because everyone else does, and Democrats cannot continue to spend money like a drunken sailor just because the Republicans did. Two wrongs do not a right make!
Until we all are willing to live within our means, our country will continue to go downhill. What we all need is to be willing to sacrifice for the good of the family/ the government.
Extending the graphic of National Debt as a per cent of GDP back to 1776 would have provided an otherwise missing perspective on how America has addressed economic problems in the past. The late 1970's low point in debt is almost equal to the debt level maintained throughout the Great Depression era of massive Federal expenditures. Pay as you go prevailed until WWII and if Roosevelt had had his way would have also applied to the war years. Our National Debt spiked with the War of Independence, the Civil War, WWI, and WWII. The first three debt spikes were paid down more rapidly than WWII. Truman lost his battle with Congress for a more rapid pay down of WWII.
People have hated taxes since the beginning of history but until about 1980 America preferred taxes to debt. State Constitutions generally barred debt. So in the Great Depression the huge Federal expenditure was met by progressive taxes. During the Depression the lowest tax bracket was 4% compared with 10% today. The highest bracket was 79% compared with 35% today. In 2008 dollars the 79% bracket in income was for that part of income which exceeded $45,000,000.00. As a very crude estimate there are about 14,000 people in the United States today whose income average exceeds ten times that level. Were the Depression era tax code now in effect the stimulus costs might be within a balanced budget.
There are huge problems that the federal government must tackle. Overall however, government is simply too big and needs to be streamlined to better react to problems as they arise. There is too much duplication between the federal government and the state governments. Companies shold not have to follow state and federal EPA rules for example. States should set their own rules and the federal government should simply regulate the state agency. Schools, prisons, roads, etc all require a mix of local, state, and federal funds which leaves no one accountable and adds to over regulation and increases cost.
I think you focused on the recent details and missed the big problem. If the dollar was tied to gold, as it once was, the government could not spend more than its income from taxes. What allows the government to cut taxes and simultaneously increase spending is worthless fiat money printed by the Federal Reserve. Abolish the Fed and put the dollar back on the gold standard and our financial problems will be over for ever.
I see why the Republicans have not put up any real counter budget or anything else really. They are quite scared about this growing healthcare/entitlement issue that has the ability to gobble us up like a silkworm eating a mulberryleaf. I see we are going to have to be painfully realistic about the future.......all of us.
Good job frontline!
New York City, NY
I watched the program pertaining to Americas debt, and the only way I see that we can come out of it is to raise taxes. I know people dont want to hear it, but we took on a lifestyle as a nation that from the outset, was impossible to sustain. Makes me think that Ross Perot was on to something with those pie charts. Americans have to get used to having less of what they have become accustomed to having. Given the trend, we will never get out of this self-inflicted financial nightmare, unless taxes are raised, incrimentally for the next few generations, and hopefully the people that we owe money to will defer the intrest rate, although that seems unlikely. Pres Obama, Im sure, realizes that a significant controlling share part of the country will have to be sold off, and even this may only cover a little over half of the debt. Time is also an enemy, because intrest compunds, and like I said, I don't think that our creditors are willing to negoiate a reduced rate, but there may be some kind of backroom deal going on, definately not in Americas favor. I think that America has seen the last of it's international financial superiority status, and that developing nations are coming into there own. I think that they may learn from the mistakes of America, and the lesson that excess leads to distress as America has painfully denied, but is realistically experiencing.
A fine report, but in place of so much repetition to drive the point home, maybe there should have been something on government creating money and inflating (gradually devaluing) the US Dollar. Oil recently jumped 7-8 percent, and the dollar slipped agains all major currencies. Seniors and those of us hoping to save enough to retire are paying part of the bill in a hidden and unlegislated raid on our accounts. What is the cost, and who bears it, when 7% of the value of all dollars held, paper and electronic, is lost in a day?