• United States



by Sandy Kendall

Does a Towering Deficit Make the Country Less Secure?

Jul 28, 20033 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

If your household expenses exceeded income by five percent for years at a time, many people would call your household a little unstable, kind of vulnerable, insecure.

Two weeks ago the White House admitted a record deficit of about $455 billion for 2003, or 50 percent more than was projected only five months ago. Thats a record high in absolute and inflation-adjusted dollars (although not in percentage of gross domestic product; Reagan still holds that). Worse is projected for 2004, with a total of $930 billion in two years. (Can I just pause here for a minute to point out that a billion is a lot? One billion minutes ago, if you happened to be near Rome, you might catch a speech by Pliny the Younger. It was sometime in the year 92 of the Common Era.)

Two years ago, the U.S. government ended the year with its fourth straight surplus$127 billion. And in 2001, incidentally, the Bush administration predicted a surplus this year of $334 billion. This year is expected to be the third straight year of declining tax revenues for the country, the longest streak since the Depression.

Generally, economists dont flinch at running a deficit to get the country through a weak economic spell. There are many who defend the current budget plan, and point to extraordinary expenses like military actions and other costly repercussions from 9/11 that have compounded the decreased federal revenues that come with a sag in the economy. But others say the trouble in this particular case is that a big chunk of the spending, namely, the administrations tax cuts, have costs that will extend well beyond any revenue boosts from economic recovery.

And problems will really pile up when the Baby Boom generation begins to retire over the next decade and Social Security and Medicare spending will perforce increase. The Washington Post notes that the $455 billion deficit is actually $150 billion less than it would be because $150 billion of Social Security tax income is being spent on other programs.

What are the security dangers to deep deficit and debt? They are the not very telegenic problems of slow corrosion, rather than the exciting and occasional explosions of terrorism or international hostility. They are states and localities struggling to meet their commitments to the citizenry because theres no money to pay for things. Well-kept roads, public lighting, sufficient numbers of first responders, and well-trained law enforcement staff all promote security and safety in a local sense, and as budgets are squeezed dryer each fiscal year, well be chipping away at those. (See Local Plan to Fight Worldwide Terror from sister publication CIO magazine.) They are also cuts in human services, particularly in early childhood services, that can weaken us far down the road as the populations overall intellectual and moral capacity is left underdeveloped. And there may be millions of disaffected or unemployed workers whose jobs were too expensive to keep at home. Will they decide to vote for a political extremist, or to sabotage the company that made them redundant? If they opt for the latter, it could be a problem for companies whose enthusiasm for investments in security have been doused by continued economic uncertainty and risk. If survival is in question, enhancing security becomes a wish-list item.

Although a senior Republican Senate aide talking about the increased deficit recently told the Washington Post, Its shock and awe, the administration is acting like the big budget deficit is no big problem. But, all things considered, do you think a record-breaking deficit makes our country less secure?