Lawrence Kotlikoff - "With The Fiscal Crisis In Spitting Distance Here Is My Proposed Solution"

Tyler Durden's picture

With everyone offering some version of a US budget, one more ridiculous than the other, one thing is certain: nobody has any clue how to fix America's fiscal catastrophe. And while the biggest soap opera rages in D.C. Larry Kotlikoff, who recently served as the only rational contributor to the just released IMF what paper "An Analysis of U.S. Fiscal and Generational Imbalances: Who Will Pay and How?" summarizes the "progress" so far: "The two parties are having a heated debate over the Republican plan to slice $61 billion off Uncle Sam’s projected $3.6 trillion budget. If the Republicans get their way, the deficit will fall from 9.5 percent of gross domestic product to 9.1 percent. If they don’t, they’ll probably shut the government for a couple of days. Then they’ll compromise on, say, a $40 billion budget cut, having proved they gave it their best shot." And sick of the corrupt petulance in DC, Kotlikoff has decided to propose his own budget. " I launched last week
to solicit endorsements for what I call the Purple Health Plan -
- a proposal that offers common ground to both Republicans and
Democrats. To date, five Nobel laureates in economics, George Akerlof, Edmund Phelps, Thomas Schelling, Vernon Smith and
William Sharpe, have signed on. So have other prominent
economists." We have not read it but fail to see how it can be possibly worse, especially since one Paul Krugman has not endorsed said plan.

U.S. Fiscal Crisis in Spitting Distance: Laurence Kotlikoff, first posted in Bloomberg

The two parties are having a heated
debate over the Republican plan to slice $61 billion off Uncle
Sam’s projected $3.6 trillion budget. If the Republicans get
their way, the deficit will fall from 9.5 percent of gross
domestic product to 9.1 percent. If they don’t, they’ll probably
shut the government for a couple of days. Then they’ll
compromise on, say, a $40 billion budget cut, having proved they
gave it their best shot.

Arguing over lowering our deficit by just 0.4 percent of
GDP when we need to run massive surpluses to deal with the baby
boomers’ impending retirement is, pick your metaphor --
rearranging the Titanic’s furniture, Nero’s fiddling, Custer’s
Last Stand.

Is this malign fiscal neglect, or has Congress somehow
missed what its own Congressional Budget Office is indicating?
CBO’s baseline budget updates suggest the date for reaching what
Carmen Reinhart, Kenneth Rogoff and other prominent economists
believe is a critical insolvency threshold -- a 90 percent ratio
of federal debt held by the public to gross domestic product --
has moved four years closer, in just nine months!

The CBO releases its realistic long-term forecast -- the
alternative fiscal scenario -- every June. In between, it
provides us with periodic updates of its unrealistic 10-year
baseline scenario, based on “current law.” Congress, for
political reasons, forces the agency to interpret current law in
ways that generally make spending much lower and taxes much
higher than is likely.

Take It Seriously

Consequently, no one should take the projected levels of
spending and taxes in CBO’s baseline scenario seriously. But
everyone should take very seriously updates to the baseline.
Why? Because these changes give us a pretty good idea of how the
next alternative fiscal scenario will differ from the previous

Last June’s analysis had us going critical (crossing the 90
percent debt-to-GDP threshold) in 2021. But back then the CBO
assumed the Bush tax cuts wouldn’t be extended for the rich
starting in 2011. In December, President Barack Obama dropped
his demand to immediately raise taxes on the rich in exchange
for a one-year cut in the payroll tax, which helps fund Social
Security. So much for raising revenue at a time when we are
borrowing 37 cents to cover each dollar of spending.

In January, the CBO modified its 10-year baseline forecast,
taking into account the December deal. By my calculations, this
meant the 90 percent threshold would be crossed in 2019.

What a Difference

A lot can change in a few weeks. In February, the president
released his budget and, lo and behold, it proposes maintaining
the Bush tax cuts for all except the rich not through 2013, as
in the December deal, but indefinitely. In so doing, the
president conveniently took the issue of tax increases off the
next election’s table.

On March 18, when the CBO released a new forecast that
incorporated the president’s budget, the 90 percent mark had
moved up to 2017.

Actually, 2017 is optimistic. Uncle Sam’s creditors will
soon start charging exorbitant interest rates -- like those
Greece, Ireland and Portugal now face. The market’s concern with
those countries’ bonds is outright default, which is unlikely in
the U.S. What is likely is rising inflation as the Federal
continues to print vast quantities of money to help pay
the Treasury’s bills.

I generally don’t give investment advice, but Bill Gross,
co-founder of PIMCO and manager of the world’s largest bond
mutual fund, has it right. It’s time to your dump all but your
very short-term U.S. Treasuries and other dollar-denominated
bonds. A safer alternative is Treasury inflation protected
securities, or TIPS.

Real Problem

To be clear, the real problem isn’t paying for our current
spending. The real problem is paying for the 78 million baby
as they retire and claim their promised Medicare,
Medicaid and Social Security benefits, and as spending on the
new health-care exchanges expands far beyond what’s been

There is one bright spot. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House
Budget Committee, has included a version of the Rivlin-Ryan
Medicare plan in the Republican budget proposal. This bipartisan
proposal, co-authored with Alice Rivlin, former CBO director and
head of the Office of Management and Budget under Bill Clinton,
would transform Medicare from its current fee-for-service,
defined-benefit structure into a defined contribution system in
which the government’s liability is strictly capped.

Rivlin-Ryan would be a huge step in the right direction,
but what’s really needed is a complete redo that would keep
total government health-care spending where it is now, at about
10 percent of GDP.

Common Ground

To that end, I launched last week
to solicit endorsements for what I call the Purple Health Plan -
- a proposal that offers common ground to both Republicans and
Democrats. To date, five Nobel laureates in economics, George Akerlof, Edmund Phelps, Thomas Schelling, Vernon Smith and
William Sharpe, have signed on. So have other prominent

If you’re a Democrat, don’t worry. This system is more or
less what’s in place in Germany, Holland, Switzerland and Israel
-- hardly right-wing bastions. If you’re a Republican, don’t
worry. This is a voucher system that’s fair to all and keeps
government spending from exploding.

If you like the plan, please endorse it and share it with
others. This includes the president and House Speaker John Boehner, who should take the Purple Health Plan and adopt it as
their joint proposal.

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tek77blu's picture

His proposed solution should have been..."Buy Gold and Silver".

Commentary on the recent breakout of gold and silver to new highs:

I am Jobe's picture

Agreed. SLV seems to be a bit overbought. Waiting for the big pull back. I wonder if Demon at Chase will manipulate the shitz.

Thomas's picture

He personally is a gold-silver-hard asset guy.

I am Jobe's picture

Agreed. SLV seems to be a bit overbought. Waiting for the big pull back. I wonder if Demon at Chase will manipulate the shitz.

reddog's picture

NO. His solution should have been: GIVE EVERYONE THE OPTION TO BUY INTO MEDICARE.  Medicare is the cheapest and best health insurance in the U.S.  This 'purple' plan is just a republican plan to force everyone into an HMO;  this is not like the German or Swiss system.

falak pema's picture

They need 'liquidators' urgently in Fukushima. The first bunch are all irradiated. Now the young japanese bucks are reluctant to join in, as passing the TEPCO's 'sparkling buck' trick doesn't get many volunteers in. How about URGENTLY requisitioning all the guys on the Senate budget committee for some voluntary work in Fukushima? We may get some remarkable results

PhotonJohn's picture

Are they serious? They are all fighting over $61B! This is a drop in the bucket on $3.6T. Is this the best they can do? Who in the world would buy our debt watching this circus?

SheepDog-One's picture

Its just BS Kabuki theater, $61 B is what they pretend is some huge obstacle? IMF directs the budget raise all taxes and cut all benefits 35%. Theyre broke they dont have 61 billion or 3.6 trillion, all just pure fantasy to kick the can another couple feet away.

PhotonJohn's picture

I wish Americans would wake up and realize this is their reality. They have elected a bunch of ass clowns that are utterly in gridlock over a 1.7% cut in a budget. I bet a lot of families have had to much larger cuts than that just because of rising fuel and food costs.

If you vote for an incumbent, you get what you deserve! Unless you can show that he/she has offered up their own bills (self written) that affect serious change, vote them out!!!!

Vendetta's picture

indeed.  A 1.7 % cut in the budget, a 5% cut in $1.2 trillion 'defense' spending would have the same effect which is hardly an effect.  Funny how I become nostalgic about the days of 'only' $200 billion annual defense spending

MachoMan's picture

What the fuck are you talking about?  Americans want entitlements, not austerity...  and we elect our politicians accordingly.

IQ 101's picture

Theater! It certainly appears that way, a magicians

well practiced sleight of hand,

Almost as if TPTB know something EPIC is about to occur,

Because the only other explanations are fiscal insanity/delusion or the imbedded socialista

Marxist crowd actually believe their B.S. will work this time around.

I believe our fearless leaders know something large is coming down the alley, Comet Elenin? Mayan calender? global veneral crabs epidemic? This is Kabuki on acid, something larger is afoot.

The PTB may be annoying douch bags, but they are not dumb.

"All the worlds a stage", Old Bill had it right, this is bigger than economics, History is about to get historical.

"May you be blessed to live in dull times".




I am Jobe's picture

The Govt must have a yard sale and hang themselves after that. The crap yak yak yak and nothing to show for. What a bunch of idiots.

snowball777's picture

- 1 used server farm for Carnivore processing (hilarious data mine), $2400 OBO

- 1 used server farm (co-located at AT&T, save space by deleting all files in Farsi) $2000 OBO

- 1 'naked scanner' (w/SD writer and built-in printer) $2000 OBO

-  seeding a torrent with all of it to WikiLeaks, priceless


i-dog's picture

They're not haggling over the depth of the cuts! ... those are meaningless unless they cut by 95%.

They are simply all queueing up for their slice of pork and this takes time to sort out between them all. Once those at the back of the queue have been given their slice, the leaders will announce a "compromise". Just as with TARP ... politics as usual.

Josh Randall's picture

Holistic Solution: Raise Tariffs to pre-NAFTA levels, Tell the Banksters no more made-up interest payments, Go back to the Gold standard.


Dragline's picture

There are way too many people proposing so-called "unique" or "new" solutions that are neither unique nor new.  Organizations like the Concord Coalition have been talking about this for over a decade.  It's nice to see another wonk on board, but he's way late to the party and shouldn't be taking credit for thinking up anything.

The problem is not a lack of solutions.  It's a lack of political will.  The only way to do that is to convince a majority that everyone and every program will have to take some pain.  But even Ryan's new plan has not put everything on the table.  

I don't see that changing until their is some kind of financial disaster.

hardcleareye's picture

I agree, you have to cut spending AND raise taxes (close the gap between statutory and real paid taxes). 


skipjack's picture

Not just NO, but HELL NO !


Those clowns in CONgress have shown ZERO ability to cut spending once they smell tax increases.


Tell the clowns to cut the budget by 60% and pass a balanced budget amendment, and then we can talk about taxes.  Specifically, I'd do away with taxes on producers and go with strictly a consumption tax (Fair Tax, anone?) as well as import taxes to ameliorate the effects of offshoring/outsourcing.

tawdzilla's picture

"The only way to do that is to convince a majority that everyone and every program will have to take some pain."

You are correct.  In order to avert a hyperinflation, the politicians (the people) must demand an economic depression, and choose future generations over their own.  (As Bush 41 used to say)...nahgahnadaht. 

Dragline's picture


I miss Dana Carvey impersonations.  "Mogadeeshoo"

Irwin Fletcher's picture

Obama's one step ahead of you, tawdzilla. Like Clinton calling for sacrifice in his election campaigns, Obama says 'Everybody has to make some sacrifices and take a haircut'

Vendetta's picture

the financial disaster is already here which is moving in its mayhem toward the cliff.

tarsubil's picture

The purple plan is HIV positive.

"Vouchers are individually risk-adjusted; those with higher expected healthcare costs, based on documented medical conditions, receive larger vouchers."

No thanks!

tarsubil's picture

Duplicate terminated!

kito's picture

how many nobel laureates in economics does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Dragline's picture

Duplicate delete

Caviar Emptor's picture

Or......every day you see gold going higher. It's been rising in proportion to the extent of our national debt. 

Why not hitch our wagon to gold? That's the way it was in the US until 1971. We know what happened to our fiscal affairs since then. 

If we go back on the gold standard we can use new strong dollars to pay back lots and lots of old weak dollars. We can add the leverage of time, paying it off gradually. 

Guess that would make a whole lot of sense and undo the voodoo part of economics. Which is exactly why many in CONgress will be against it (both parties). Gold is anti-BS, so it eliminates some of the power of the political class. 

MachoMan's picture

Whoa there partner.  How do you propose we have the possibility to repay the debt via non-defaulting methods (e.g. not devaluation)?  It seems to me that if you are desirous of another gold standard, we would be best served to repudiate, scrap the currency, and start a new one with gold backing...  and then somehow get the government to inherently limit its size in perpetuity...  

apberusdisvet's picture

25% across the board is needed; it will never happen.  No cuts to the Military Industrial Complex (Ike was so so prescient) because the US military is needed to enforce the NWO, the  ultimate totalitarian wet dream.  We are so phucked.

MachoMan's picture

More importantly and immediately, it is needed to keep the dollar as the world's reserve currency...

youngman's picture

nothing about illegals in his plan either....

Zina's picture

And here is Zina's proposed solution:

Cut the defense and military spending (currently at 1 trillion/year) by 80% and the US will still be the country with the biggest military budget in the world. That will represent a 800 billion dollars cut in the government spendings, per year.

tarsubil's picture

Do you realize that the budget will still not be balanced after you make that cut? Do you realize that the US is the richest country in the world and has the most wealth to protect? Do you think the guy with 100 lbs of gold in his basement should spend the same amount on lead as the guy who lives in a trailer and lives month to month on welfare?

Bicycle Repairman's picture

The USA is protected by two large oceans and peaceful neighbors.  That is how it always has been.  Cut the military down to where we are merely the largest military and not larger than everyone else combined.

Doubleguns's picture

We have seen behind the curtain and should expect that our true masters at the IMF will implement the "working paper" program. Politicians do not want to be the ones making the hard choices so they will leave it to the IMF so they can complain loudly against it and hopefully ensure their reelection.

Doing nothing appears to be better than doing the right thing from a reelection perspective.

dogismyth's picture

Here...I'll say it for the elitists and politicians since they don't want to hurt anyones feelings.   No one lives over 70 unless they have at least a million in a trust.  Shut down Medicare and Social Security.  Offer senior citizens free burial plots.  Allow access to free euthanasia.  Use additional funds now available from SS/Medicare to sponsor further depopulation through war, genocide, starvation, and chemical poisoning.  Strengthen the TBTF banks.  Scrap the voting system and elect a king.  Remove all legal liability and culpability for corporations, politicians, banking and their affiliated services, lobbyists, think tanks and government employees.

That should fix it!  Anything to add??

Vendetta's picture

that's what we currently have.

Urban Redneck's picture

Based on his economic analysis, his investment advice is TIPS!!!  Does he not know that 1) there is, has been, and will be, no inflation, and 2) central bankers get their inflation information from the certifiably criminal statisticians who control the yield on TIPS?  Hence, improved yield in TIPS is THE LAST PLACE BEFORE THE GATES OF HELL ANYONE IS EVER GOING TO SEE "INFLATION"


Nice read, but stick to economics and leave making money to the professionals.


Even without understanding finance - "Treasury Inflation Protected Securities" is a dead give away per US Government naming conventions, they can be used for anything and everything BUT their named function, Clean Air or Water Act anyone? 


kridkrid's picture

Any proposal that doesn't attempt to fundamentally change the monetary system is not daring and ultimately will not work.  We have a system where money starts as debt with interest attached.  That system has nowhere to go other than collapse as interest payments will eventually overwhelm the productive capacity of the "economy".  In quotes as the very ponzi like nature of this consumption based, perpetual debt expanding system is hardly economic.

Note to self's picture

"Hey Everybody"  We're all gonna get laid".

Stuck on Zero's picture

The Purple Health Plan does not address the main cause of skyrocketing medical costs: the FDA and AMA.  The reason health care is so expensive is that an aspirin costs $17 at your local hospital.  Instead of an effective natural herb that cost $10/month patients are given dangerous patented, FDA approved drugs at $50/day.  The AMA and FDA need to be eliminated.  They exist only to make one small group of people very rich.

ZackAttack's picture

It was an especially neat trick that they moved all that private bank debt onto the public balance sheet, wasted public funds on stimulus and QE, and, just as it's all wrapping up, the same economists now demand austerity.


dan10400's picture

Standard Plan #2 is not workable - the whole thing collapses.   Who decides the size of vouchers each gets?   Sounds like duplication of bureaucracy here.    I deserve a bigger voucher, blah, blah.

Costs need to be reflected back to the consumer for the consumer to make rational choices. 

At least the part of removing the tax deductability moves toward this goal.

Lets tie grandpas/grandmas health care to their kids allotment.   See how quickly the plugs get pulled then.

Commander Cody's picture

The phrases "pushing on a rope" and "pissing into the wind" come to mind.

crzyhun's picture

Kotlikoff carries some this bears thought.

However, the sides are drawn and there is very little give. I do not rue that. I think and feel that the only thing that will get us out of the mess alive is loosen up regs where applicable and boosting revs because we put more people to work at jobs that are real, not solar, wind or high speed rails.

Absent that and sticking heads in sand- we are___________.

Fill in the blank.  

Dr. Acula's picture

This is just more socialism.

These so-called economists will advocate any solution except one developed by people smarter than them competing in a free market.

max2205's picture

Wind changing? I am shocked TPTB are letting this disaster reality to be discussed in public. Hey, they fooled the public that all is well. Well now that they know.....what

glenlloyd's picture

The Rivlin Ryan plan is not perfect but it's the best thing that's been put out there and at least it's an attempt to do something.

I think in the end that nothing will be accomplished until the crisis is upon us and it's too late, look at the US track record for dealing with problems before they become a crisis - they don't do it.

I do not think higher taxes is a solution, I think you have to cut the size of government until you live within the finances you have...people lose their jobs? Too bad, public sector non-contribution to the system is at an all time high. If you don't eliminate some of the bloated govt. you end up with EPA running around trying to regulate farts and a Dept of Education that has participated in the biggest decline in the educational system, so ask yourself WTF are they good for? They're just black holes of badly spent tax dollars.