What’s the Real Federal Deficit?

The federal deficit for the past ten weeks alone is now 650 Billion dollars, in addition to a fiscal 2008 deficit of $1 Trillion.

Since the US government fiscal year ended on 9/30/08, the federal debt has increased from $10,024 Billion to $10,656 Billion (as of 12/9/08).* The federal debt increased by $1 Trillion over the 12 months ending 9/30/08.

As I’ve previously noted, measuring the Federal deficit by looking at growth in the Federal debt provides a clearer picture of budget shortfalls than the officially announced numbers, which hide significant expenditures, and paint too rosy a picture.

A large part of the recent increase in the debt can be tied to the Treasury Department’s various stabilization and bailout initiatives, including the TARP and other programs. President-elect Obama plans to add a significant dose of fiscal stimulus to the Treasury and Federal Reserve efforts, driving the deficit up by another 500 Billion to one trillion in the next year. While current circumstances do call for aggressive action, the government should take care not to exacerbate our economic problems by trying to roll the clock back to 2006. Lowering mortgage rates for new home purchases, for instance, provides an incentive to create and buy more of a product that is already in a state of massive over-supply.

When the bad times end, we’ll have to start paying these debts back. Let’s hope President-elect Obama and his team spend their stimulus money on projects with tangible return on investment, and not just on make-work programs.


* A significant portion of the increase in deficit spending is being used to buy financial institution shares and various commercial debt instruments, which might be thought of as investments. Nonetheless, the federal debt grows when we borrow, even if we use the money to buy investments. This holds true for personal balance sheets, corporate balance sheets, and for the federal government as well. The federal government has a particularly poor record of decreasing the size of its debt, so I believe it’s fair to regard any excess borrowing as a deficit.

4 thoughts on “What’s the Real Federal Deficit?

  1. I do think that the US government and even culture encourage debt, and have done so for several generations. Consider that the mortgage interest deduction is one of the biggest subsidies that the government hands out – they are subsidizing us to take on debt and buy houses!

    Also, since all interest on business debt is tax deductible (unlike dividends on equity, which are the equivalent), the US encourages businesses to borrow money before seeking stockholders or partner investors!

    If the US government were to stop giving tax breaks on these forms of borrowing, I think leverage in the economy would be greatly reduced.

  2. There is a NYT article on the US debt today (see post at http://euandus3.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/12-trillion-in-debt-living-beyond-our-means/). It hasn’t been just after the financial crisis of 2008 that the US Government has had unbalanced annual budgets… And consider consumer “use” of credit cards? Is there something about our society–about ourselves–that we are missing because we are in it? (e.g. a fish doesn’t “see” its water). I don’t think we are digging deep enough.

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