Power Line’s Biggest Failure

In 2011, I think it was, we were alarmed about the metastasizing national debt. We had a great idea: let’s sponsor a competition to induce the creation of art works–videos, songs, paintings, plays, and more–that call attention to the dangers of the national debt. Thus was born the Power Line Prize competition.

I made some phone calls and raised, as I recall, $125,000 in prize money. Those were the days! We offered a $100,000 grand prize, and the entries rolled in–hundreds of them. Many were impressive. We enlisted other conservative web sites to help us unveil contenders and count down to the winner.

The contest was wildly successful. The entries got tens of millions of internet views. Justin Folk, a young and then-unknown would-be video maker, who at the time was stuck in Hollywood, won the $100,000 grand prize. That helped to launch Justin’s career as a conservative filmmaker, which now includes, among many other things, directing the Dennis Prager/Adam Corolla film No Safe Spaces and being both the producer and director of the Daily Wire’s wildly successful movie, What Is a Woman?

So the Power Line Prize contest was, in some respects, astonishingly successful. But on the whole, it was a flop, our biggest failure ever. Because it completely failed to stem the flood of deficit spending that has only grown worse since 2011.

The Wall St. Journal’s editorial board headlines: “CBO Shows the U.S. Is Paddling Toward the Fiscal Falls.”

CBO forecasts that under current law the national debt will grow to $48.3 trillion in 2034 from $26.2 trillion this last fiscal year—a whopping 84% increase. Debt as a share of GDP will rise to 116% in 2034 from 97.3%. As helpful historical context, the U.S. added $22.3 trillion in debt in its entire history through 2021, about as much as it’s projected to pile on over the next 10 years.

Thank you, Joe Biden (or whoever) and the Democrats.

Don’t blame Americans for not paying enough taxes. Revenues are expected to average 17.8% of GDP through 2034, which is more than the 17.3% average over the last 50 years. The problem is that spending over the next decade will average 23.5% of GDP—significantly more than the 50-year average (21%).

But those are the–likely optimistic–official numbers:

Even these debt projections may be optimistic. They assume no recession and that the 2017 individual tax cuts and Inflation Reduction Act’s sweetened ObamaCare subsidies expire in 2025. Oh, and that Congress doesn’t lather on more spending, and more student debt isn’t canceled by executive decree. What are the odds?

The root of the problem is “entitlement” spending, which is misconceived from the get-go. No one has an “entitlement” to taxpayer funds, and pretending otherwise may prove to be the undoing of the Republic.

[T]he growth in spending, and especially entitlements, is unsustainable. Discretionary spending is expected to climb by $372 billion over the next 10 years. But mandatory programs will balloon by some $2.5 trillion and hit $6.3 trillion in 2034, almost entirely owing to growth in Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

There is more at the link. The bottom line is that we are on a path that can lead only to disaster of a Weimar-like magnitude.

When I was a kid–a long time ago, now–there was concern about the national debt. Those concerns have persisted, as the debt has grown by orders of magnitude. At some point, I think voters became largely immune to concerns about deficits and the debt. It is like a car that is driving toward a cliff: people keep warning, There is a cliff ahead! If we drive off it we will all be killed! And yet, for quite a while the car doesn’t go off the cliff. So passengers start ignoring the warnings, secure in the belief that car and cliff will never coincide.

Until, of course, they do.

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