Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Some Perspective on Federal Debt, Revenue, and Spending

I was playing around with the US Statistical Abstract and thought I'd publish this chart.  Note that there isn't any huge variations in spending or in revenue.  We get a bit of a divergence in the 1980s where both spending rises and revenue falls, this has the predictable impact on the debt.  GDP figures would have helped with this graph but I couldn't make them look good on it.  Main thing is that spending and revenue have diverged over the past 30 years which as led to a sustained debt problem.  However, this problem remains smaller than that from WWII and is likely less destructive of overall productive capacity than that war.  Raising taxes to cover the debts will likely cost some small amount of growth, but this has been done in the past with no major harm done to the economy, look at the 50s and 60s. 

This is the reason I'm not all that worried about the debt problem, but am very worried about the revenue problem.  We remain within historical ranges on these factors which gives me confidence we can overcome them.  However, over time international competitiveness has demanded increased spending on productive public goods such as health spending.  This requires more efficient, and somewhat more, taxation to pay for it.  I am worried the political consensus that allowed us to overcome our problems in the 50s and 60s is not there today.  The left-right divide then was different directions within a shared paradigm, today, the right has defected from the paradigm of Eisenhower and this makes it difficult to address these problems.

No comments:

Post a Comment