Budget deficits – the challenge ahead in a picture

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This post is a guest contribution by Asha Bangalore* of The Northern Trust Company.

The financial press is inundated with discussions about the federal deficit and debt and the consequences thereof and our commentaries have addressed this matter also. At the cost of reiterating, we would like to share a picture (see chart 1) that presents the challenge of federal budget deficits succinctly.

Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections indicate federal outlays as a percent of GDP will consistently exceed revenues even after the economy moves away from the peak in outlays arising from the financial crisis and associated recession. On average, the federal revenues have been about 18% percent of GDP during the post-war period. The CBO projections for the years 2012-2020 point to revenues exceeding the historical median/mean measures of federal revenues as a percentage of GDP, which makes these estimates optimistic. Federal revenues have exceeded the historical mean only in a few instances when the economy grew at a rapid clip.

The fundamentals of the economy at the present time offer little support for predictions of a strong performance in the years ahead. The graying of the population and associated social costs suggest that the projection of outlays, despite an upward trajectory in the last five years of the projection period, is possibly rosy also. Need we say more?


Source: Northern Trust – Daily Global Commentary, March 10, 2010.

* Asha Bangalore is vice president and economist at The Northern Trust Company, Chicago. Prior to joining the bank in 1994, she was consultant to savings and loan institutions and commercial banks at Financial & Economic Strategies Corporation, Chicago.

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