Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Just Four Large Countries Have a Higher Debt Burden Than the U.S.

By Josh Zumbrun of The WSJ. Excerpts:
"As of 2017, the general government gross debt of the U.S. stood at 108.1% of gross domestic product, according to estimates from the International Monetary Fund. Only four large countries have more debt for the size of their economies."

Japan’s government carries debts at 240.3% of gross domestic product, far and away the world’s largest burden. Japan has struggled in recent decades to tackle its debt, in part because its economy has been stagnant. Attempts to raise revenue via higher taxes have often knocked the economy into recessions. Tax cuts haven’t generated enough growth to ease debt burdens.

The Bank of Japan has embarked on the world’s most aggressive monetary policies, including decades of rates near zero, and the world’s largest asset-purchase program. None of it has revived growth or inflation, meaning Japan’s debt burden has been slowly grinding higher. (Although the low rates have meant the costs to the government of servicing that debt have remained under control.)
Japan’s government debt has been a persistent fiscal challenge, but never quite blossomed into a full-blown crisis.

The next three nations haven’t been so lucky. Greece’s debt-to-GDP stands at 180.2% of GDP, Italy’s at 133% and Portugal’s at 125.7%." 

"But the country with the next-largest debt burden isn’t Spain, but rather the U.S. Spain’s debt-to-GDP climbed above 100% in 2014, but has since slowly dipped to 98.7%, about 10 percentage points lower than the U.S."

"The U.S. hasn’t always been among the highest-debt nations—not even close. As recently as 2001, the U.S. debt for the size of its economy was 93rd out of 169 nations ranked by the IMF that year. By 2008, the U.S. debt had risen to 23rd out of 184, thanks to a combination of factors including a recession in 2001, the start of the global financial crisis in 2007, a pair of massive tax cuts in the early 2000s that did not produce the hoped-for growth benefits, and two expensive wars.

Over the past decade, the U.S. debt has grown. Government revenues plunged during the recession. Spending soared on safety-net programs. The 2009 stimulus package cost nearly $1 trillion. The U.S. debt is now 12th out of 185, and fifth among large countries."

Here are some thoughts on the debt I have posted before:

Real problems the national debt might cause

1. About 31% of the debt is owed to foreign citizens. When they get paid back, they come and buy American goods. That leaves fewer goods for Americans (who can't afford to buy as much due to higher taxes that were needed to pay back the debt). BUT THIS MIGHT NOT BE A CONCERN IF WE ORIGINALLY BORROWED THE MONEY FOR A GOOD PURPOSE.

People borrow money all the time to buy houses and cars. Then they pay it back to a person outside of their family or household. We don’t consider this a burden since the money was put to good use. Right after World War II, the national debt was 120% of the GDP. This was much higher than it is now and we survived. No one complains that we borrowed to win the war. The national debt is about 105% of the GDP now. In 1986 it was about 50% of GDP.

2. Raising taxes might hurt economic incentives. At higher tax rates, people might want to work and invest less. Fewer businesses might expand and fewer news ones created since you will get to keep less profit. But again, THIS MIGHT NOT BE A CONCERN IF WE ORIGINALLY BORROWED THE MONEY FOR A GOOD PURPOSE. Also, if taxes only go up a little, and the debt is slowly paid off each year (like after WW II), it may not hurt too much.

3. We may have fewer government services in the future if we pay back the debt by lowering government spending. But this means that we are trading more government services today for fewer in the future. THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY A BAD THING IF THE MONEY IS SPENT WISELY (which everyone not might not agree on).

If taxes and interest rates are higher in the future due to the debt, that will lower our future economic growth rate. We will still probably grow, but not as much."

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