As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

About That Deficit

Many are speculating that the President re-appointed Ben Bernanke in the middle of his vacation to get the story away from this:

The Obama administration, citing an economic downturn that has been deeper than it had first thought, raised its estimate on Tuesday of the government’s deficit over the next decade to $9 trillion from $7.1 trillion.

Despite the shortfall, White House officials said they saw no reason to back away from President Obama’s ambitious and costly goal of overhauling the health care system. The new amount includes the cost of the health care overhaul as well as about $600 billion in additional revenue that the administration hopes to raise, two initiatives Congress has yet to approve [...]

Analysts at the Congressional Budget Office put their 10-year deficit estimate slightly lower, at $7.14 trillion, though the agency uses a slightly different method to reach its number. The budget office takes into account only policies already in place, while the administration can consider policies and budget decisions that its hopes to install.

White House officials predicted that the budget deficit this year will peak at $1.58 trillion, though they said the 2009 shortfall will be about $261 billion lower than they had predicted in May. The main reason is that officials have decided that they will not need another round of bailout money for the nation’s banks. The Congressional Budget Official also estimated a deficit this year of about $1.6 trillion.

Paul Krugman puts the numbers in perspective, saying that the added debt in the next decade is bad, but would equal 40% of annual GDP, which is comparable to what many other countries have dealt with in the past. What I'm wondering is if the deficit has ever actually been registered that way. I've certainly never seen it reported in the papers in ten-year increments - you usually see what the annual deficit is, and then the total debt. This seems like a new tactic that plays to the fiscal scolds.

Meanwhile, the way to reduce deficits is to increase productivity, output and employment, and that's the real problem with these numbers.

The real story in the new CBO projections should be the more dire economic outlook. CBO now expects the unemployment rate to be near 10 percent through most of 2010. Its new projections will show that the unemployment rate will only return to more normal levels in 2013 or even 2014, more than six years after the collapse of the housing bubble threw the economy into recession.

The implication of the new CBO projections is that millions more people will be needlessly suffering because of the economic mismanagement of the Greenspan-Bernanke-Bush crew. CBO views 4.5 percent unemployment as being the sustainable rate of unemployment. If the unemployment rate is 10 percent, more than 8 million people are needlessly out of work, with another 5 million or so being forced to work part-time because they cannot find full-time employment. These people will be struggling to pay their health care bills, cover their mortgage or rent payments, and meet other necessary expenses for themselves and their families.

The rational response to the news that the economy will be far worse than had previously been projected should be a demand for more stimulus. After all, why should millions of people lose their jobs, their homes, and their health just because the people who managed the country's economic policy over the last decade were incompetent?

But the focus is placed on the deficit, meaning that the ability to spend our way into full employment has become politically impossible. A second stimulus looks unliklely at this point. the way, a good bit of these 10-year projected deficits - probably half of the total - comes from Bush Administration unfunded mandates. Ten years' worth of Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans could have filled the rest.

...And also note that this near-term projection has a deficit that's $260 billion less for FY2009 than expected, because there is no need for another bank bailout. That could be a headline too, if reporters wanted to write it, especially considering that near-term projections are more reliable than ones about what the economy will look like in 2019.

Labels: , , , , , ,