What a difference 8 years can make – if you’re interested in holding public debt. The Obama administration leaves office just inches away from a $20 trillion dollar debt, when in 2009 that administration inherited $10 trillion in debt. It took the US a couple hundred years to get to $10 trillion; Obama created almost that much debt in 8 years.
Trillion-dollar deficits became the norm from 2009-2012, as “stimulus” spending was touted as the fix to everything that ails the economy. A question never asked in those conversations might be “If federal spending fixes recessions, and federal spending goes up every year, without fail, why do we ever have recessions?”
Because the answer would be “I don’t know”, and historically there’s no correlation between increased federal spending and increases in GDP – even with federal spending as a component of GDP. As shown below, federal expenditures continue to increase, debt increases, and GDP bounces all over the place, but in a downward direction.
“In contrast to its positive near-term macroeconomic effects, ARRA will reduce output slightly in the long run, CBO estimates — by between zero and 0.2 percent after 2016,” the analysts said in their new report.
They said the cause is all of the borrowing for the $830 billion program, which dramatically boosted the federal debt.
“To the extent that people hold their wealth in government securities rather than in a form that can be used to finance private investment, the increased debt tends to reduce the stock of productive private capital. In the long run, each dollar of additional debt crowds out about a third of a dollar’s worth of private domestic capital,” the CBO estimated.
As icing on the Obama administration’s economic cake, GDP in the 4th quarter of 2016 came in at a whopping 1.9%. For 2016, the annual rate came in at 1.6%, down from 2.6% the year before, which seems to correlate to the CBO estimates above. So instead of going out with a bang, Barrynomics goes out with an agonized whimper.
What is interesting, though, is that there’s a correlation between incomes and deficits – but in an unexpected direction. As deficits get bigger (meaning gov’t spends more than it takes in), incomes decrease, at precisely the time when deficit spending is supposed to improve negative income trends through stimulus spending.
The smaller the deficits, the larger the incomes. The bigger the deficits, the smaller the incomes. Even if federal spending during recessions is designed to offset income reductions through job losses, etc, it apparently does not have that effect. At all.
Which runs entirely counter to the basic ideas espoused by Keynes, and that federal spending (including significant deficit spending) could dampen recessionary effects in the short run, and in the longer run help grow the economy.
But there’s no real way to account for the disparate impacts of that spending, which has to grind through the political mill and get disbursed through the bureaucracy via changes to funding, grants, etc, which then has to be actually spent by the receiving agencies. That spending can’t ramp up to full speed on a dime, and if it’s a larger multi-year project, any benefits of that spending (through new hires and their subsequent income increases, impacting aggregate demand) would be delayed, at best, for an unknowable period of time.
Finally, because the civilian labor force participation rate is at historical lows (below), and seems to correlate to the drop in GDP, it seems that any incentives one has to drop out of the labor force – increases in unemployment benefits, expanded entitlement spending, etc – might have as its final result an unanticipated reduction in economic growth.
A reduction that would apparently come as a surprise to both Keynes and Obama.