Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Budget deficit’

Many of the politicians in Washington, including President Obama during his State-of-the-Union address, piously tell us that there is no way to balance the budget without tax increases. Trying to get rid of red ink without higher taxes, they tell us, would require “savage” and “draconian” budget cuts.

I would like to slash the budget and free up resources for private-sector growth, so that sounds good to me. But what’s the truth?

The Congressional Budget Office has just released its 10-year projections for the budget, so I crunched the numbers to determine what it would take to balance the budget without tax hikes. Much to nobody’s surprise, the politicians are not telling the truth.

The chart below shows that revenues are expected to grow (because of factors such as inflation, more population, and economic expansion) by more than 7 percent each year. Balancing the budget is simple so long as politicians increase spending at a slower rate. If they freeze the budget, we almost balance the budget by 2017. If federal spending is capped so it grows 1 percent each year, the budget is balanced in 2019. And if the crowd in Washington can limit spending growth to about 2 percent each year, red ink almost disappears in just 10 years.

These numbers, incidentally, assume that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are made permanent (they are now scheduled to expire in two years). They also assume that the AMT is adjusted for inflation, so the chart shows that we can balance the budget without any increase in the tax burden.

I did these calculations last year, and found the same results. And I also examined how we balanced the budget in the 1990s and found that spending restraint was the key. The combination of a GOP Congress and Bill Clinton in the White House led to a four-year period of government spending growing by an average of just 2.9 percent each year.

We also have international evidence showing that spending restraint – not higher taxes – is the key to balancing the budget. New Zealand got rid of a big budget deficit in the 1990s with a five-year spending freeze. Canada also got rid of red ink that decade with a five-year period where spending grew by an average of only 1 percent per year. And Ireland slashed its deficit in the late 1980s by 10 percentage points of GDP with a four-year spending freeze.

No wonder international bureaucracies such as the International Monetary fund and European Central Bank are producing research showing that spending discipline is the right approach.

This video provides all the details.

Read Full Post »

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Obama Administration will propose a three-year freeze for a portion of the budget known as “non-defense discretionary” spending. Many critics will correctly note that this is like going on a drunken binge in Vegas and then temporarily joining Alcoholics Anonymous. Others will point out that more than 80 percent of the budget has been exempted, which also is an accurate criticism. Nonetheless, even a partial freeze would be a semi-meaningful achievement. But don’t get too excited yet. It is not clear whether the White House is proposing a genuine spending freeze, meaning “budget outlays” for these programs stay at $477 billion for three years, or a make-believe freeze that applies only to “budget authority.” This is an enormously important distinction. Budget outlays matter because they represent the acutal burden of government spending. Budget authority, by contrast, is a bookkeeping measure that – at best – signals future intentions. During the profligate Bush years, for instance, apologists for the Administration tried to appease fiscal conservatives by asserting that budget authority was growing at ever-slower rates. In some cases, they were technically correct, but their arguments were deceptive because real-world spending kept climbing to record levels. And needless to say (but I’ll say it anyhow), future intentions never became reality. Domestic discretionary spending soared from less than $350 billion to more than $600 billion during the Bush years (and rose almost another $100 billion in Obama’s first year!). If the Obama Administration proposes a genuine outlay freeze, he will be taking a genuine (albeit small) step in the right direction. If the “freeze” applies only to budget authority, however, that will be a pretty clear indication we are in George W. Bush’s third term.

To attack the $1.4 trillion deficit, the White House will propose limits on discretionary spending unrelated to the military, veterans, homeland security and international affairs, according to senior administration officials. Also untouched are big entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. The freeze would affect $447 billion in spending, or 17% of the total federal budget, and would likely be overtaken by growth in the untouched areas of discretionary spending. It’s designed to save $250 billion over the coming decade, compared with what would have been spent had this area been allowed to rise along with inflation. …administration officials acknowledged the freeze is directed at only a small part of overall spending, but that fiscal discipline has to start somewhere. President Obama had requested a 7.3% increase last year in the areas he now seeks to freeze.

Read Full Post »

The Wall Street Journal has a column identifying fiscal deficits as the greatest threat to European economic performance. As this passage indicates, many European nations have enormous deficits and debt, much larger than the United States:

Excessive euro-zone deficits now present one of the biggest risks to the global recovery. Several European countries – Greece, Italy and Belgium – already have debts of more than 100% of gross domestic product. Others will join them in 2010. Across the euro zone, the deficit in 2010 is likely to be more than 7% of GDP. …The snag is that no one knows how far or how fast countries must cut their deficits to retain the support of markets. Government bonds are being artificially supported by central-bank policies. …Greece and Ireland’s bonds already yield close to 5%, around 1.7 percentage points more than Germany’s. …If yields rise too high, deficits will become unsustainable. Medium-term, most countries need strong growth to reduce debt before they are hit by the huge demands on social spending as the baby-boomer generation retires. In theory, rising yields should impose market discipline on wayward governments. But without the traditional safety valve of devaluation, the sacrifices needed to restore competitiveness via wage deflation and falling living standards may be too much to expect from elected politicians. …The market assumes that if one member state faced a buyers’ strike, the others would ride to the rescue, despite the euro zone’s no-bailout policy.

The column identifies some key concerns, but are budget deficits really the problem? Would these European nations be better off, for instance, if they imposed massive tax increases? Setting aside Laffer Curve concerns, big tax hikes could close the fiscal gap. Is it reasonable, then, to think that Europe’s economies would respond with more growth? That is highly unlikely. Replacing debt-financed spending with tax-financed spending merely changes the mechanism for diverting resources from the productive sector of the economy to the government. Yes, deficits and debt undermine economic performance by draining resources from private credit markets. But higher tax rates also stifle growth by decreasing incentives to work, save, and invest.

The real problem is that government is far too big in Europe. This is the crisis, and it is a problem that America is now facing as a result of the profligate Bush-Obama policies.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: