Let’s indulge Mr Obama in his fantasy economics: imagine that he does reduce the deficit to 3.1%. Supposedly, that would stabilise government debt: but it would do so at a dangerously high level of around 80% of GDP, and as interest rates rise the target will become much harder to hit. And that is before you consider the biggest problem of all: as more and more baby-boomers retire (the first started to do so this year), their demands for pensions and government-provided health care will start to push the deficit sharply up again after that.
Indeed, the real problem with both Mr Obama’s budget and the Republicans’ proposals is not so much the half-truths and fibs within them, as all the things they both left out. America needs to simplify its tax system and (slightly) increase its overall tax take. It needs to rein in its defence spending, which is currently equivalent to that of the next 20 countries combined. And it needs to tackle the gathering surge in entitlement costs. All these recommendations were made by the deficit-reduction commission that Mr Obama himself set up, but his budget conspicuously fails to take up any of them. Other debt-burdened Western countries have embarked on a stringent diet. America continues to gorge.