Mondays, 9:40–11:05, Apr. 23–May 14
Instructor: Jim Cantwell
This course will address several aspects of the current $20 trillion federal debt, including how it has grown over time; projected debt levels over the next several decades; and whether tax cuts will increase or decrease deficits through economic growth. Because of their large and growing contributions to federal deficits, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the debt, and military spending will be examined in some depth using Congressional Budget Office data. Questions to be addressed include: Why does the federal debt matter, anyway? How close are we to being bankrupt and are we any different than Greece, a country in fiscal distress? Is there a ratio of US debt to national income where a debt-fueled economic crisis becomes inevitable? What is the trade-off between fiscal austerity and economic growth? Is our grandkids’ future in peril because of the growing debt? How might the debt impact current retirees? The federal budget process will be examined, as well as tax policy and the distribution of income. We will also look briefly at private, state, and local debt. Class discussion may be supplemented with presentations by experts from the Mason faculty or other budget experts.
Jim Cantwell, an OLLI member, retired from the US Senate Joint Economic Committee. He worked as a health economist/budget analyst at the US House of Representatives, Committee on the Budget, and at the Government Accountability Office. He was an assistant professor of economics at Texas A&M University and a health economist with the American Medical Association.