The American public sector will bankrupt the country?

At least that’s the thrust of this article and while I doubt it’s fully accurate, if even half the figures and stories it says of what’s happening are true, then America will soon be running out of cash. Some of the more fascinating tidbits include:

The average federal salary (including benefits) is set to grow from $72,800 in 2008 to $75,419 in 2010, CBS reported. But the real action isn’t in what government employees are being paid today; it’s in what they’re being promised for tomorrow. Public pensions have swollen to unrecognizable proportions during the last decade. In June 2005, BusinessWeek reported that “more than 14 million public servants and 6 million retirees are owed $2.37 trillion by more than 2,000 different states, cities and agencies,” numbers that have risen since then. State and local pension payouts, the magazine found, had increased 50 percent in just five years.

These huge pension increases have eaten away at public finances, most spectacularly in California, where a bipartisan bill that passed virtually without debate unleashed the odious “3 percent at 50” retirement plan in 1999. Under this plan, at age 50 many categories of public employees are eligible for 3 percent of their final year’s pay multiplied by the number of years they’ve worked. So if a police officer starts working at age 20, he can retire at 50 with 90 percent of his final salary until he dies, and then his spouse receives that money for the rest of her life. Even during the economic crisis, “3 percent at 50” and the forces behind it have only become more entrenched.

If I hadn’t read this article the same day as this Economist piece, I’d probably have dismissed it as a certain amount of ‘scare mongering’ but it has made me wonder, if the United States (which traditionally in theory, if not in practice, has been unfavourable to government expansion) has this much of a deficit problem, what’s it like in Europe?