Debt for Beginners

This page collects introductory articles on taxes, government spending, deficits, and the national debt that we have written over the years. They are from The Baseline Scenario unless otherwise noted.

National Debt

National Debt for Beginners” (NPR): Why the government borrows money, and whether it is borrowing too much.

Is There Too Much Federal Debt?” (New York Times): Political battles over deficits and debt are ultimately about distribution: who gets what and who pays for it.

Does the U.S. Really Have a Fiscal Crisis?” (New York Times): The key factors that could lead to a real fiscal crisis.

Long-Term Budget Forecasts for Beginners“: How to read a CBO forecast.

How Big Is the Long-Term Debt Problem?” and “Correction to Long-Term Debt Projections“: Our projections of where the national debt is heading.

Federal Budget

What’s a Big Government?“: What the government spends money on, and how it has changed over time.

What Is This ‘Washington’?“: There is no dragon called “Washington” that can be slain without hurting ordinary people.

‘The Elderly’ for Beginners“: How social insurance programs work.

Social Security for Beginners“: How to think about Social Security.


Tax Expenditures Are a Form of Big Government, and We Should Cut Them” (The Atlantic): Why tax expenditures are bad.

Special Taxes for Special Wealth” (The Atlantic): Tax preferences for investment income (capital gains and dividends).