Financial Sleight of Hand
Reader Sammy sends along this from USA Today:
The federal government recorded a $1.3 trillion loss last year — far more than the official $248 billion deficit — when corporate-style accounting standards are used, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
The loss reflects a continued deterioration in the finances of Social Security and government retirement programs for civil servants and military personnel. The loss — equal to $11,434 per household — is more than Americans paid in income taxes in 2006.
“We’re on an unsustainable path and doing a great disservice to future generations,” says Chris Chocola, a former Republican member of Congress from Indiana and corporate chief executive who is pushing for more accurate federal accounting.
Modern accounting requires that corporations, state governments and local governments count expenses immediately when a transaction occurs, even if the payment will be made later.
The federal government does not follow the rule, so promises for Social Security and Medicare don’t show up when the government reports its financial condition.
Bottom line: Taxpayers are now on the hook for a record $59.1 trillion in liabilities, a 2.3% increase from 2006. That amount is equal to $516,348 for every U.S. household. By comparison, U.S. households owe an average of $112,043 for mortgages, car loans, credit cards and all other debt combined.
Unfunded promises made for Medicare, Social Security and federal retirement programs account for 85% of taxpayer liabilities. State and local government retirement plans account for much of the rest.
Really quick thought… we have readers like Bruce Webb and Coberly who read through the Social Security Trustee’s Report every year. Bruce Webb tells us that the Social Security position seems to have improved with each report he’s read, and since he backs it up with numbers and examples, I suspect he’s right. And I wonder how you value the future obligations of, say, a treaty to defend Taiwan.
I doubt the figures in the article are accurate, but I don’t have any problem believing that there’s a lot of financial sleight of hand in the government books.