While a Washington Post piece gave extensive coverage to the Post's favorite deficit hawks in a piece on the budget deficit, it did not include anyone who could present the basic economic facts to readers. The reason the deficit expanded from just a bit more than 1.0 percent of GDP in 2007 to more than 10 percent of GDP in 2009 and 2010 was that the economy plunged following the collapse of the housing bubble. The deficit was and is filling in a demand gap in the private sector as a result of this collapse.
The fact that deficit hawks would not allow the government to spend more money is keeping the economy from returning to full employment. As a result, close to 9 million people are out of work who would be employed if the economy were operating near its potential. This is forcing millions of children to grow up in families with one or both parents unemployed. It would have been helpful if the Post had presented the view of someone familiar with basic economics who could have reminded readers of these facts.
It also would have been helpful to include the views of someone who could have ridiculed the obsession with a debt to GDP number. When interest rates rise, as the Congressional Budget Office projects, the price of the long-term debt that we are issuing today (e.g. 10-year and 30-year bonds) will plummet. This means that the government could buy these bonds back at sharp discount rates eliminating trillions of dollars in debt. (For example, a 30-year bond issued with a 2.75 percent interest rate last year, would sell for less than 60 cents on the dollar in 2016 if the interest rate has risen to 6.0 percent. This would mean that if we bought back 30-year bonds with a face value of $2 trillion, it would only cost us $1.2 trillion. This would instantly eliminate $800 billion in debt, lowering our debt to GDP ratio by roughly 5 percentage points.)
This move would be completely pointless since it would not change our interest burden at all. But since Washington budget wonks seem to think the debt to GDP ratio is hugely important, it would be a very simple and costless way to make them all very happy. It would have been useful for the Post to note this so that its readers would realize that the budget debate in Washington is pretty much complete nonsense from an economic standpoint.
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