Over the coming weeks, we’re going to be hearing a lot about the ‘fiscal cliff’: the threat that some 5% of GDP is going to be ripped out of the economy in a combination of tax hikes and spending cuts. A fiscal slow-down on that scale will almost certainly trigger recession. The CBO thinks so, though their numbers look optimistic to me. (If you cut demand by 5%, more or less overnight, then you shouldn’t expect the economy to grow by more than 1% in the year following.)
The Feds solution to debt: more debt
Because the process of fiscal compromise acts itself out on the political stage – all big personalities and high drama – the media loves to report it. Loves to imply that vast questions are at stake, that political careers will stand or fall by the outcome.
But they’re not. Not really. This so-called ‘cliff’ is really just the first in a series of steps. The US budget is arguably the most distorted in the Western world. Greece and Japan may have higher debts, Italy and Portugal may have worse growth prospects – but for sheer budgetary insanity, the US is probably the world leader, combining huge current deficits with vast unfunded promises to retirees, and welfare entitlement program recipients. You don’t need to take my word for this. The IMF states, ‘under our baseline scenario, a full elimination of the fiscal and generational imbalances would require all taxes to go up and all transfers to be cut immediately and permanently by 35 percent. A delay in the adjustment makes it more costly.’ Continue reading