Sunday, 17 June 2018 21:20

America's Greatest Crisis Upon Us...Debt-to-GDP Makes It Clear

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Authored by Chris Hamilton via Econimica blog,

America in the midst of the greatest crisis in its 242 years of existence.  I say this based upon the US federal debt to GDP (gross domestic product) ratio.  In the history of the US, at the onset of every war or crisis, a period of federal deficit spending ensued (red bars in graph below) to overcome the challenge but at the "challenges" end, a period of federal austerity ensued.  Until now.  No doubt the current financial crisis ended by 2013 (based on employment, asset values, etc.) but federal spending continues to significantly outpace tax revenues...resulting in a continually rising debt to GDP ratio.  We are well past the point where we have typically began repairing the nation's balance sheet and maintaining the credibility of the currency.  However, all indications from the CBO and current administration make it clear that debt to GDP will continue to rise.  If the American economy were as strong as claimed, this is the time that federal deficit spending would cease alongside the Fed's interest rate hikes.  Instead, surging deficit spending is taking place alongside interest rate hikes, another first for America.

The chart below takes America from 1790 to present.  From 1776 to 2001, every period of deficit spending was followed by a period of "austerity" where-upon federal spending was constrained and economic activity flourished, repairing the damage done to the debt to GDP ratio and the credibility of the US currency.  But since 2001, according to debt to GDP, the US has been in the longest ongoing crisis in the nation's history.

But what is this crisis?  The chart points out the debt to GDP surges in order to resolve the Revolutionary war, the Civil War, WWI, and WWII. But the debt to GDP surges since 1980 seem less clear cut.  But simply put, America (and the world) grew up and matured, but the central banks and federal government could not accept this change.  Instead, the CB's and Federal government wanted perpetual youth...growth without end.  The chart below shows the debt to GDP ratio but this time against the decelerating growth of the total US population as a percentage (black line) but also against the faster decelerating growth of the 0-65yr/old population (yellow line).

Unfortunately, it gets so much worse.  In 1968, the Johnson administration and Congress passed the Unified Budget to count (and spend) the excess tax receipts of Social Security and OASDI.  In so doing, since 1968, the federal government has cumulatively spent (and goosed the economy) by $74 trillion to increase annual GDP to its current $20 trillion (chart below).  This is $53 trillion in unfunded liabilities which should be there now, collecting interest to pay for future distributions.   Instead, this money has already been spent and new debt must be issued if the obligations are to be honored.

If we count the federal debt plus unfunded liabilities (now beginning to come due) against GDP, we have a...

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