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Arnold Kling has a Ph.D. in economics from MIT; founded, one of the very first commercial websites, in 1994; separated from Homefair in January 2000 after it was sold to Homestore; is author of Under the Radar: Starting Your Internet Business without Venture Capital, and is an essayist. Send comments to us at

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March 04, 2004

The Inquisition

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Posted by Arnold

In this essay, I draw parallels between the way Congress treats economists and the way the inquisition treated Galileo.

Imagine that you were invited to a party held at a bar. You show up, and you give $5 to the host. The host welcomes you, slaps you on the back, and asks "What'll you have?" After you give him your order, he heads off in the direction of the bartender. You think that he's going to use your money to pay for your order. But in fact, he is using it to pay for a drink ordered by someone else, who already has been here for an hour. When he orders your drink, the host is going to tell the bartender to "put it on our tab."

And just how big a tab have we run up with Social Security and Medicare? What is the damage? Well, it turns out that the present value of the unfunded deficit in entitlements has been estimated by Jagadeesh Gokhale and Kent Smetters to be $45 trillion. Even if President Kerry or Edwards turned the rich people in the country upside down, emptying their pockets of all their financial assets, homes, cars, and everything else, that still could not cover the tab that Congress has run up on our behalf.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: economic essays


1. John on June 30, 2004 01:37 PM writes...


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