This paper assesses current methods for evaluating the long-term viability and desirability of government activities, especially Social Security and other big-ticket budget items. I reach four conclusions: (1) There are several simple ways to improve the current debate about fiscal policy by adjusting our crude deficit measures, improvements which ought not to be controversial, (2) Separately measuring Social Security’s long-term balance is inappropriate and misleading, (3) The methods available to measure very long-term government financing (Fiscal Gaps and their cousins, Generational Accounts) are of very limited value in setting public policy today, principally because there is no reliable baseline of the government’s likely future expenditures and receipts, and therefore (4) The government’s current annual and 10-year deficit projections, while highly imperfect, are nonetheless the best measure available for assessing fiscal policy, especially compared with Fiscal Gaps and Generational Accounts.


Economics | Law and Politics | Law and Society | Public Law and Legal Theory | Retirement Security Law | Social Welfare Law | Tax Law

Date of this Version

March 2005