Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Public Debt to GDP: Fastest Jump Since WWII

The Atlantic reports the record setting April:

The United States set two budget records in April. First, the $82.7 billion monthly budget deficit was the highest ever for that month. Second, it was our 19th consecutive monthly deficit, the longest streak of red ink on the books.
Rolfe Winkler the broader meaning of deficits:
Don’t look now, but total U.S. public debt outstanding is approaching $13 trillion.

Each incremental trillion is going by so quickly, it’s hardly news anymore…

$6 trillion: February 28, 2002
$7 trillion: January 15, 2004 (22.5 months)
$8 trillion: October 20, 2005 (21 months)
$9 trillion: August 31, 2007 (22 months)
$10 trillion: September 30, 2008 (13 months)
$11 trillion: March 16, 2009 (5.5 months)
$12 trillion: November 16, 2009 (8 months)
$13 trillion: May-June 2010 (6-7 months)

While the pace is rather astounding, what is interesting (to me) is that the pace of increase is actually much slower in nominal terms (i.e. steepness of the blue line) than what we saw throughout the 1970's (due to higher inflation) and 1980's (due to massive tax cuts to "starve the beast").

Remarkably, the problem is currently less related to the level of nominal debt (still a problem) as much as the fact that our economy is not keeping pace (not a surprise as the increase in the level of debt was a response to the economic slowdown).

The result... the fastest increase in debt relative to GDP (i.e. the steepness of the red line) since WWII.

Source: Treasury Direct / BEA