Mitt Romney fremstilles som de rikes kandidat, mens Barack Obama er progressiv. Man glemmer at USA ikke lenger har råd til å betale for reformene. Krisen i velferdsstaten er den samme i Europa som USA.

Det er lett å bevilge seg reformer, men den ubehagelige sannhet er at det ikke finnes økonomi til å betale. USA lever på lånt tid, dvs. man lever på fremtidige generasjoners bekostning.

For the record, US debt hit $5 trillion under Clinton, even though, to his credit, the 1999 federal budget was $76 billion in surplus. Not since Andrew Jackson, in 1835, has America been debt-free. A cynical man might conclude that Mr Obama knew all these details, but found dissembling a more convenient route out of trouble than discussing the fiscal horror that has unfolded on his watch.

The White House website boldly claims: “President Obama has led the way on structuring the government to live within its means.” This is not even remotely true. By any measure, the US continues to spend way above its income and, as a result, its debt position is deteriorating apace

These are the facts. George W Bush left behind a set of books that were not so much unbalanced as vertiginous. At the end of 2008, US debt was $9.9 trillion, or 69.7 per cent of GDP, and the ballooning deficit was $683 billion. Since then, all the key indicators have worsened markedly. By the end of this year, gross debt is forecast to reach $16.3 trillion (the number to which Letterman was alluding), more than 100 per cent of GDP, or a rise of two thirds under Obama. The annual deficit is close to $1.5 trillion, 10 per cent of GDP. Worse still, according to official forecasts, US debt is on course to hit $20 trillion by 2016. If this is a country living within its means, one dreads to think what would happen if Washington decided to throw a party..


Ronald Reagan’s unfunded tax cuts and a rapid escalation in defence spending saw America’s debt all but triple during his time in office. George Bush Jr went down a similar road of tax cuts and military expansion and ended up in a similar place, with national debt rising by 75 per cent to reach that $9.9 trillion figure.

A recent study by Deloitte, the accountancy firm, concludes that America’s debate on the nation’s finances is largely superficial and the debt crisis far more severe than business leaders, policy-makers and the public realise: “The US,” it says, “is on track to spend at least $4.2 trillion in interest payments over the next decade… money that could otherwise be used to make investments to boost American competitiveness.”

This makes a sustained period of exceptional growth, which has rescued the country before, far harder to achieve next time. With nearly half of publicly-held US debt in the hands of foreigners, the borrow-to-consume game is almost up.