Obama’s blowout budget

Feb 1, 2010 16:53 UTC

Now that the worst of the financial crisis is behind us, one would think the budget deficit might start to come down. Actually, no. Obama’s proposed budget sets a new deficit record — $1.6 trillion this year compared to $1.4 trillion last year.

The President thinks he can help the economy with more deficit spending. But debt is the reason we have a jobs problem in the first place. We’ve accumulated more debt than our incomes can support (see chart at bottom) so the economy is trying to pay it down, leading to less spending and higher unemployment. Adding to the debt pile only makes the employment picture uglier in the long-run.

In his blog entry introducing the budget, Office of Management and Budget Chief Peter Orszag tries to argue that the administration is working to close the deficit. Meanwhile the spin from the White House is that this budget marks the beginning of a “new era of responsibility.” Of course that’s not at all what we’re getting. Orszag even trots out the line that we can grow our way out of debt:

Economic recovery – on its own – would take our deficits from 10 percent of GDP to 5 percent of GDP.

But GDP — a measure of spending — can’t grow unless we’re spending more. Seems to me the only way for aggregate spending to grow faster than government spending is for the private sector to spend more. But households are tapped out. They’re saving more to repair already busted balance sheets.

We’ve published the following chart here at Reuters, which illustrates a key talking point for deficit doves:

cyh96h

At 10%, the deficit is far smaller as a share of GDP than during WWII. We’ve spent far more before, the argument goes, so it’s no trouble to spend so much today. One problem with this argument is that it ignores unfunded liabilities for Medicare and Social Security. If the budget was calculated according to the same accounting principles that apply to corporations, the deficit would look much worse. We had no such unfunded liabilities in the ’40s.

The argument is also incomplete. Americans’ total debt burden amounts to much more than what the federal government owes. Including private debt makes the picture look far worse than the ’40s:

US_DEBT1209

It was easier to service higher public debt in the ’40s because de-leveraging during the Depression had wiped out most private debts.

Debt is the problem. We (should have) learned that after the Depression, yet we’re piling on more in a misguided effort to prop up an economy that desperately needs to de-lever.

Obama certainly inherited a mess, but driving us deeper into debt only compounds the unemployment problem.

COMMENT

The other question worth asking is what assumptions did Orszag’s team use to create the GDP growth projections? Did they assume that the past two decades of levered GDP growth is representative of what to expect going forward in a “recovery”?

Posted by Conrad | Report as abusive

Lunchtime Links MLK Day

Jan 18, 2010 19:59 UTC

McKinsey report on de-leveraging — pdf (McKinsey, ht Paul M) Lots of interesting charts. Conclusion is that debt reduction in the developed world has only begun. The Economist has a good summary too.

Why talking to yourself may be the highest form of intelligence (Just Seven Things) Smart post. I would add a related point, that the most effective study method is actually teaching. Students that must teach study partners a bit of material will engage it at a deeper level as they anticipate questions.

Wall St. weighs constitutional challenge to new tax (Dash, NYT)

New York Times ready to charge readers (Daily Intel) Felix has some thoughts on this, though he fails to defend his view that it’s “not smart business” to “cut users off from the website just for the sake of dealing with a nasty cashflow problem.” Explaining this particular point in detail would be helpful as “nasty cash flow problems” tend to, you know, put companies out of business. Still, Felix acknowledges that NYT needs to charge something in order to support content generation.

Bundles of cable (Surowiecki, New Yorker) Á la carte cable probably wouldn’t lead to lower bills for consumers. Instead, the channels that folks really watch –ESPN, e.g. — would end up taking a bigger piece of the pie.

Cruise ship docks at private Haiti beach for BBQ, water sports (BoingBoing)

Chavez nationalizes retailer (Crowe, DJN) The Venezuelan economy continues to rot from the inside out.

Elevated CO2 in school traced to students’ breath (WMUR) Apollo 13 anyone?

Why NBC breached Conan’s contract (Sklar, Mediaite)

Really fast roller coaster….(fast forward to 0:35)

COMMENT

Fast Forward the video to 53, not 35 ! :)
==RED

Posted by Bob | Report as abusive
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