The U.S. federal government debt has risen from less than 40% of total GDP about a decade ago to 78% as of May 2018.

John Fourier

2018-06-01 07:30:00 Fri ET

The U.S. federal government debt has risen from less than 40% of total GDP about a decade ago to 78% as of May 2018. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that this ratio will surge to 96% in 2028. Although many blame the Trump tax cuts as the key root cause, the increases in health care and retirement benefits suggest a different real reason for U.S. deficit severity.

Harvard professor Martin Feldstein attributes the recent rise of U.S. budget deficit from 4% to 5% of total GDP to increases in Medicare and social security retirement benefits for middle-class older Americans. These increases in core health care and retirement benefits account for about 2.7% of total GDP. The neoclassical Sargent-Wallace thesis suggests that the central bank cannot finance incessant increases in core deficits with government bond issuance regardless of money supply growth. This money supply expansion would lead to inexorable inflationary pressures that defeat the dual mandate of both maximum employment and price stability in the suboptimal fiscal-monetary policy coordination. Inflation serves as a seigniorage tax that would in turn dampen real macroeconomic variates such as household consumption, capital investment, labor supply, and total economic output. In light of this ripple effect on sustainable financial market growth and prosperity, the law of inadvertent consequences counsels caution.

 


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