Twenty-one years ago this summer, a 59-year-old financial adviser from Florida named Jack Gargan began running full-page ads in newspapers around the country decrying a rising national debt then approaching $4 trillion.
“I’M MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE,” the ads said in bold, one-inch type. Eventually, Gargan ran them in 633 newspapers, embedding a coupon in each one that asked supporters to drop a check in the mail to support future ads.
Gargan warned about rising debt in hundreds of appearances on television and radio talk shows and at town hall meetings in all 50 states. He produced T-shirts emblazoned with the name of his organization, “Throw the Hypocritical Rascals Out,” or THRO, and compared members of Congress to “drunken engineers on a runaway train” taking the country to the “precipice of economic disaster.”
Gargan was an early ally of Ross Perot when Perot ran for president on an anti-deficit, United-We-Stand ticket in 1992. Gargan eventually became chairman of Perot’s Reform Party, where he was an ally of former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. Gargan’s Reform tenure ended when he was ousted in a power struggle in 2000. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress and for governor of Florida.
By the late 1990s, Gargan’s worries appeared to be abating. A Republican Congress and Democratic President Bill Clinton, buoyed by the technology boom and a willingness to cut deals, produced budgets that not only were in balance, but were on track to pay down the debt. There was an opening to confront the ticking demographic time bombs in Social Security and Medicare.
But then, while the economy hummed along, most of 1998 was consumed by Clinton’s affair with an intern, his lies to cover it up and his political opponents’ attempts to remove him from office.
Since then, the nation’s debt has soared beyond $14.3 trillion, fed by two wars fought on borrowed money, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the collapse of the housing market and a combination of tax cuts and expensive new government programs. Even with a new agreement in place that ostensibly cuts $2.1 trillion in spending, the debt could soar beyond $20 trillion by the early 2020s.
In 2005, he sold his Cedar Key, Fla., home and moved abroad “because I saw all of this coming and thought the time was right for me to get out of Dodge,” he said via email. He keeps in touch with politically active friends, writes an Internet newsletter and catches the latest news on U.S.-based cable networks.
“What is going on in the U.S. financially has everything to do with my move to Thailand,” he said. U.S. debt is “absolutely unpayable,” Gargan said, unless the dollar is significantly devalued and the political system does what it so far has been unwilling to do.
Of the $2.1 trillion debt-cutting deal, Gargan said “spineless” politicians “kicked the can further down the road with infinitesimal cuts, mostly way out in the future. They had better get serious, quickly, about real spending cuts, or the U.S. is doomed to go the way of all great civilizations in history” with an “internal implosion.”
His prescription includes “modest tax increases” on anyone earning more than $200,000 per year; a minimum level of taxation on earners who pay no income taxes to get buy-in from everyone on the need to reduce debt; a balanced budget amendment to prevent Congress from spending more than it takes in; and closing tax loopholes, while keeping capital gains rates low to encourage long-term business investment and hiring.
In those original ads he began running more than two decades ago, Gargan said he was getting involved on behalf of his grandchildren, Evan, Eric and Lindsey. They’re all living in Georgia now, Gargan said, and since those first ads, they have produced eight great-grandchildren. Six other grandchildren have been born since the original ads ran, and they’re spread out across Ohio, North Carolina and Florida.
“They are all positioning themselves for the big crash, which is yet to come,” Gargan said.