Federal Deficits Are Worse than You Think, by Mark Brandly

Here’s a surprise. The federal government and its media henchpeople tend to put the deficit in its absolute best light. From Mark Brandly at mises.org:

Voters tend to be rationally ignorant. Since a single vote does not matter, for most potential voters the cost of being politically well-informed is greater than the benefit of being knowledgeable about political affairs. Therefore it’s rational for most voters to be ignorant regarding political issues.

A main reason for the high cost of being well-informed is that government officials may not want the public to be well-informed. They purposefully conceal their schemes to reduce the opposition to their policies. A well-informed body politic would be a threat to the welfare and warfare state.

This obscurantism is on full display regarding the government budget.

Let’s start with the annual deficit. You may have noticed that the stated annual deficit is less than the increase in government debt. In order to explain this, consider a small scale example. Assume that you were $20,000 in debt at the beginning of 2017 and you earned $3,000 and spent $4,000 during the year. You borrowed $1,000 to cover this spending so your total debt increased to $21,000. A sensible reading of this situation would be that you had a $1,000 deficit in 2017 (multiply these numbers by a billion dollars to roughly approximate what is generally asserted to be the federal budget).

However, if you followed the federal government’s method, you would claim a deficit of, say, $600. According to the feds, the official deficit is less than the increase in total debt. How do they do this? Well, some of the borrowed money is simply not included in the deficit. For example, in fiscal year 2016, they claimed a deficit of $587 billion even though the total debt increased $1,422 billion and the debt held by the public (the total debt less the intragovernmental debt) increased $1,049 billion. They hide some of the deficit by simply declaring that some of the increased debt is not part of the deficit.

But this deception is of little consequence compared to the government’s claims about their spending habits.

According to the “Economic Report of the President,” government spending (outlays) over the twenty year period from Fiscal Year 1998 to FY 2017 more than doubled from $1,652.5 billion to $3,981.6 billion. In real terms, using the implicit price deflator as our measure of inflation, this was a 67% increase in spending.

To continue reading: Federal Deficits Are Worse than You Think 

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