Former Federal Reserve Board Chair Paul Volcker and private equity billionaire Peter Peterson had a NYT column this morning complaining that not enough attention is being paid to the national debt. The piece uses wrong-headed economics and xenophobia to try to scare readers into backing their austerity agenda.
On the economic side, it implies that the prospect of a rising debt to GDP ratio implies an imminent crisis.
“Yes, this country can handle the nearly $600 billion federal deficit estimated for 2016. But the deficit has grown sharply this year, and will keep the national debt at about 75 percent of the gross domestic product, a ratio not seen since 1950, after the budget ballooned during World War II.
“Long-term, that continued growth, driven by our tax and spending policies, will create the most significant fiscal challenge facing our country. The widely respected Congressional Budget Office has estimated that by midcentury our debt will rise to 140 percent of G.D.P., far above that in any previous era, even in times of war.”
There are several points to be made here. First the ratio of debt service to GDP is currently just 0.8 percent. (This is net of interest payments rebated by the Federal Reserve Board.) This is near a post-war low. By comparison the ratio was over 3.0 percent in the early and mid-1990s. In other words, the reality is the exact opposite of what Volcker and Peterson claim, the burden of the debt on the economy is unusually low.
– Center for Economic and Policy Research