Some perspective on the federal debt

The federal debt is an issue that needs to be addressed. Virtually everyone agrees on this.

But how big of an issue? And how should it be addressed? These are questions that deserve more robust debate than they’re receiving. As evidence of this fact, check out these recent articles by two of the nation’s most astute economic observers in which debt worries are put in their rightful place.

As Dean Baker notes:

“The attachment to a particular debt number seems more than a bit peculiar for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious is that the financial markets don’t seem the least bit bothered by the current levels of debt and prospective future levels of debt. They presumably understand what most people in the Washington policy debate do not, the high deficits of the last 5 years are the result of an economic collapse, not profligate spending or huge tax cuts. This is why the interest rate on long-term Treasury bonds is at post-war lows.”

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman agrees that the debt/deficit hubbub is way overblown:

“These are difficult times for the deficit scolds who have dominated policy discussion for almost three years. One could almost feel sorry for them, if it weren’t for their role in diverting attention from the ongoing problem of inadequate recovery, and thereby helping to perpetuate catastrophically high unemployment.

What has changed? For one thing, the crisis they predicted keeps not happening. Far from fleeing U.S. debt, investors have continued to pile in, driving interest rates to historical lows. Beyond that, suddenly the clear and present danger to the American economy isn’t that we’ll fail to reduce the deficit enough; it is, instead, that we’ll reduce the deficit too much. For that’s what the “fiscal cliff” — better described as the austerity bomb — is all about: the tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to kick in at the end of this year are precisely not what we want to see happen in a still-depressed economy.”

One Comment

  1. Louie

    November 27, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Dean Baker has had some interesting things to say about Erskine Bowles.