Some Interesting Charts and Arguments on the Deficit Issue

Greg Hannsgen | March 21, 2011

Some more thoughts on the federal debt, which I blogged about last week: First, at Barry Ritholtz’s blog, there are some other interesting figures: one portraying the gross federal debt in three different ways and another breaking the gross debt down by holder. Ritholtz’s figures use data from the U.S. Treasury Department. Note that the gross debt, which stands at a little over $14 trillion, includes around $3 trillion in securities held by the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. (See Trustees’ report.) These securities are not treated as federal liabilities in flow-of-funds data, the main source for the figures in my earlier post. This difference between net and gross numbers accounts for most of the apparent gap between the figures reported in Ritholtz’s blog and those reported here. Like the Federal Reserve’s portfolio of Treasury securities, the securities owned by the trust funds are essentially both assets and liabilities for the broader federal sector, and for macroeconomic purposes, it is best to net them out in my opinion. This leaves well below $10 trillion in federal debt to the public, according to both flow-of-funds data and the Treasury Department website. Regardless of the exact size of the federal debt, which is not crucial, the point to note right now about the deficit issue is that the economy does not appear to be showing signs of excessive government borrowing. We at the Levy Institute will be writing more about this in the near future.

Along these lines, it was good to see Bill Mitchell’s recent article on the deficit in The Nation. Many of the points raised by Mitchell are crucial to the deficit debate and well expressed in the article.


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