Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Government Debt Has Consequences

Morgan Stanley's Richard Berner noted in a recent research report, America's Fiscal Train Wreck, that the U.S. budget deficit and resultant debt issuance will have negative economic implications over the long run. In the report Berner estimates:
  • ...federal deficits will likely average as much as 6% of GDP through 2019, contributing to a jump in debt held by the public to as high as 82% of GDP by then - a doubling over the next decade. Worse, barring aggressive policy actions, deficits and debt will rise even more sharply thereafter as entitlement spending accelerates relative to GDP. Keeping entitlement promises would require unsustainable borrowing, taxes or both, severely testing the credibility of our policies and hurting our long-term ability to finance investment and sustain growth.
  • the federal deficit has ballooned to US$1.8 trillion or 13% of GDP in fiscal 2009. But the bulk of the threat is structural: The fiscal stimulus package included spending increases with minimal bang for the buck, leaving more debt than growth.
  • most important, by 2019 the full force of rising entitlement outlays and debt service will begin to hit the budget. No rosy growth scenario will provide sufficient resources to meet all the claims on future federal revenue. And while tax hikes or a broader tax base will likely be part of the solution, the real cure is to curb the growth of entitlement spending.
  • in 2010, some 100 million Americans will be enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP (the State Children's Health Insurance Program), and outlays amount to 5% of GDP. Longer term, Medicare enrollment will rise significantly as the population ages. More importantly, future per capita cost growth for both programs is well in excess of per capita GDP, meaning that outlays for these three programs will double to 10% of GDP by 2035 and nearly double again by 2080. Translated into budget outcomes, according to CBO, these programs will account for virtually all of the likely growth in primary federal spending - total spending less interest on debt held by the public - in relation to GDP, and thus all the likely expansion of the deficit and debt. In contrast, social security cost increases will play a relatively minor supporting role.
The full research report can be read below.
Americas Fiscal Train Wreck

Investors and the public should give serious thought about the real benefit additional entitlement programs, i.e., government health care. The long term negative economic consequences are likely significant.

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