Mr Trump eschews spending cuts: he has promised to protect spending on the aged. In fact, he wants to spend more on infrastructure, the army, veterans, education and child care. But he has adopted other Republican orthodoxies. He wants big tax cuts for the rich and for firms, which would send the incomes of the top 1% of earners soaring by at least 10%. This would come at great expense: perhaps $7.2trn over a decade, according to the Tax Policy Centre, a think-tank (for comparison, America’s entire national debt is currently about $14 trillion). Fear not, say Mr Trump’s advisors: tax cuts and deregulation will boost economic growth to 3.5-4%, up from an average of 2.1% since the end of the recession, boosting the Treasury’s coffers enough to pay for both lost revenues and spending increases. But that is a fantasy. America is growing slowly for two reasons: the working-age population is shrinking, and productivity growth is low. If, as he promises, Mr Trump were to crack down on immigration and to shred trade deals, both problems would get worse, not better. For that reason, Mr Trump’s fiscal policy would send the national debt soaring.
Ms Clinton has more sober ideas. She wants new spending totalling about $1.7trn over a decade. Some of this goes on infrastructure; most is spent on redistribution towards middle-earners and the poor. She would subsidise child care, and expand the child-tax credit, which shrinks parents’ income-tax bills. Having been pushed leftward on the issue by Bernie Sanders, she would guarantee that by 2021 households earning less than $125,000 pay no tuition fees at public universities in their home states. A host of other fiddly changes to the tax code would encourage firms to do things like share their profits with workers and hire apprentices. To pay for it all, Mrs Clinton would raise taxes on the rich. For example, she would impose an additional 4% tax on incomes over $5 million, and levy a fee on big banks.
The candidates, then, offer two completely contrasting plans. Mrs Clinton would keep the national debt more-or-less on its current path, raise overall taxes and spending, and redistribute from the rich downwards. Mr Trump would borrow vastly more than currently planned, cut taxes, and redistribute upwards (compared with current law). Neither would do much about America’s longer-term fiscal woes. Because the trust fund for Medicare runs dry only in 2028, and the Social Security fund only in 2034, this issue will only really grab politicians—and electorates—later.