May 10, 2010

A Threshold for Debt

Justin Katz

Folks fond of those politically motivated "clocks" that show how much something has cost or how long we have to some catastrophe should update their debt clocks. According to Moody's, the United States could be just a few years from a credit rating downgrade:

Spiraling debt is Uncle Sam's shock collar, and its jolt may await like an invisible pet fence.

"Nobody knows when you bump up against the limit, but you know when it happens it will really hurt," said fiscal watchdog Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The great uncertainty about how much debt is too much has tended to make fiscal discipline seem less urgent, rather than more. There is no obvious threshold beyond which investors will demand higher real yields for holding U.S. debt. Vague warnings from ratings agencies about the loss of America's 'AAA' status haven't added much clarity #151; until recently.

Estimates are that the threshold comes when debt service equals about one fifth of revenue. The Congressional Budget Office puts that date at 2018, but changes in circumstances — such as increasing interest rates — could move it up to 2013. In other words, debt cannot be a solution much longer, and given that a government that has spent the last year in a final flamboyant push of decades of spending increases will not be likely to undo what it has just accomplished, revenue will have to be raised.

And we know what that means.

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>>revenue will have to be raised

You are correct about that! However, you must remember that a large part - if not all - of the current debt problems relate to having Bush and other Politicians telling you that they can give you money back (tax cuts) while spending vast amounts on everything from war to tax credits for oil companies and ethanol plants.

Then the problem compounded because these polities along with lack of caring and regulation caused a Great Recession. Tax INCOME to the Federal Government went down by a vast amount in the last 2 years. More spending and less income would eventually cause trouble.

BUT, the good news is that when the economy picks up, revenue into the Treasury picks up with it also! Assuming that things are truly improving, revenue to the government should increase. Also, it is highly doubtful that we are going to need any more vast bailouts...

In addition, hopefully the wars are winding down. That will save a ton of money.

One could be pessimistic, I suppose, and say everything will go wrong. That is certainly possible if the GOP gets in power. However, I am fairly confident that the current course is upward and given some additional pain and time, we will be lowering the deficit from those worse projections.

It's impossible to state these things for sure, but I currently give it about a 70% chance of getting better and better over the next decade. All bets are off, though, if we get another bunch of neo-cons ( or whatever the next selfish folks call themselves ) in office. Then we return to the law of the jungle.

Posted by: Stuart at May 10, 2010 6:27 PM

Sane people have the Austrian School.
Communists/progressives have the Greek School.

We're on the road to Athens boys.

Posted by: tommy cranston at May 10, 2010 6:57 PM

"We're on the road to Athens boys."

Is this pederast humor?

Posted by: Warrington Faust at May 10, 2010 10:30 PM

"And we know what that means."

Massive scaling back of the bloated and unnecessary "defense" budget and domestic security apparatus? Never mind, I thought for a second you apologists for empire were finally coming to your senses.

What does it mean? Scapegoating of immigrants, unions, and the poor by the corporate media and their dittohead minions, of course. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

Posted by: Russ at May 11, 2010 10:18 AM

Of course, the news today that the Tax burden on average in the USA is the lowest in 60 years - MUCH lower than during the Bush years, sort of makes one wonder about the Taxed Enough Already crowd.......
(there it is, folks!)

The lies and selfishness of the right know no bounds! They would have you believe we had the HIGHEST taxes ever, but the truth is they are the lowest.

Posted by: Stuart at May 11, 2010 3:21 PM

Seems like an area where the right and the progressives (versus the neo-liberals in both parties) have common ground. If we could only get you folks angry about the right things.

Greece Today, US Tomorrow: The People v. the Bankers

America’s Tea Partiers and anti-tax rebels have given up the fight to reform governments. Squeezed by debt from which they see no escape, they demand lower taxes – and are willing to see the highest brackets become the major beneficiaries in an even more regressive tax shift. Faced with the corruption of Congress by lobbyists acting on behalf of the vested interests, they reject government itself and seek safety in local gated communities. They see Congress and parliaments throughout the world losing autonomy to the IMF, the EU and other Washington Consensus organizations seeking to impose austerity and shift the tax burden onto labor and industry, off property and off predatory finance.

The only way to prevent a regressive tax shift and debt squeeze is gain control of governments on behalf of the spirit of classical economic and Progressive Era reforms. At least, that is what Greek labor is rioting for. Someone must control government, and if democratic forces withdraw from the fight, the financial sector will tighten its grip.

Posted by: Russ at May 11, 2010 3:48 PM

Exactly, Russ!
If the tea partiers had any intelligence, they would ask for tax increases! After all, responsible people should want to pay the bills, not make the debt larger!

I welcome these new found Americans and Scholars of the constitution to the proper side of politics - that of progressive responsibility.

You can't run around and act as if total selfishness is the best possible thing for this country.

Posted by: Stuart at May 11, 2010 5:31 PM

As a libertarian and an isolationist I (unlike your hero that clueless clown in the White House)favor cutting the war budget by half-at LEAST, am against the fascistic Patriot Act and against troops anywhere-other than the Mexican border.

You always fail to mention the tax that is really crushing the working people. The property tax. 6 grand for a 1 bathroom dumpy ranch and it goes up EVERY year to pay for the government tit suckers, the illegal aliens, the corrupt cronies and the welfare leeches. All part of the unsustainable system created and maintained by rich communists/progressives who don't care a whit about taxes.
Trillion dollar deficits until the currency collapses: Brilliant!-why didn't anyone think of that before?

Progressives-the dumbest show on Earth.

Posted by: tommy cranston at May 11, 2010 7:30 PM

Tommy boy,
Inconvenient facts again...
"Federal, state and local taxes — including income, property, sales and other taxes — consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950"

So, INCLUDING ALL TAXES, they are lower than in 60 years.

Come up with something else and get back to us.

The only tax problems is that Bush spent them and gave them back to the wealthy- and then destroyed the economy so less were being paid.

Posted by: Stuart at May 11, 2010 9:31 PM

Stuart must have had the same math teacher as Pat Crowley. : -)

The average is skewed because nearly 50% of earners pay no income tax (indeed pay negative income taxes in that they get EITC and such). So their "0%" paid artificially lowers the "average."

For those who actually pay taxes the percentages or multiples of that.

Also, the trillions of dollars in debt incurred for current expenditures (plus the interest it will accrue) is not counted as current taxes paid, as the government (for these purposes) is using (in effect) cash-basis accounting instead of accrual accounting.

Moreover, on a macroeconomic basis, the government is expending an amount equivalent to about 25-30% of gross domestic product (and that may be the federal government alone, I'm not sure). Except to a collectivist / communist / socialist / democrat socialist or fascist, that figure is indicative of a government that is morbidly obese.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at May 11, 2010 11:20 PM

"Federal, state and local taxes — including income, property, sales and other taxes — consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950"

Total rubbish. All of us who work pay 7% to FICA alone. I pay nearly 9% for property tax alone! Plus TDI. There's 17% from the git go.
That doesn't include income, sales, car, gasoline, alcohol, tobacco (not me-unlike The Messiah I don't smoke), hotel, airplane,telephone, cable, car-rental or other taxes.
Or the progressive/communist new $100 registration tax-for each vehicle.

Add it all up. Is there ANYONE out there whose total tax burden is 10% of their gross income?
Not a chance.

Progressives-the dumbest show on Earth.

Posted by: Mike at May 12, 2010 9:58 AM

Ah, Mike, you forget your math.

Since you Bushies made capital gains and dividend and other taxes so low, all of those billionaires pay NO Fica...and since they make most of the money in the USA, that skews the average!

Fica has stayed relatively the same for a long time, so that would be unlikely to mess up the average anyway.

Even if you make 20 million in salary, like your corporate heros, you only pay the 7% on the first 100K. Do the math. Such a CEO only then pays way less than 1% in FICA.

Read the study - they are comparing apples to apples. The fact is that the bite in total is lower than ever before.

What you seem to be unable to understand is that all those politics you neo-cons and cons cheered were specifically designed to screw YOU. And they did. And now you are complaining?

So, yes, I believe your bite is much larger than that. So is mine. But those dudes flying around in private jets and sitting by the pool and beach....theirs went WAY down. That should make you happy about yours going up, Right? After all, John Galt and all...right?

Only a con could see how their policies ruined the country....and ask for more!

Posted by: Stuart at May 12, 2010 11:23 AM
As a libertarian and an isolationist I (unlike your hero that clueless clown in the White House)favor cutting the war budget by half-at LEAST, am against the fascistic Patriot Act and against troops anywhere-other than the Mexican border.

My hero? I didn't even vote for the guy! You want to blame me for my primary vote go ahead, but remember that Democratic voters in RI had a choice between Obama and Clinton, everyone else having dropped out by then.

For you guys outraged that the poor don't pay federal income tax (they do of course pay a disproportionate amount of the income in other taxes), consider that most corporations pay no U.S. income taxes in many years despite trillions in sales. By your own standards shouldn't we conclude that business is under taxed? Or am I correct that your view is that "only the little people [should] pay taxes?"

The GAO said corporations escaped paying federal income taxes for a variety of reasons including operating losses, tax credits and an ability to use transactions within the company to shift income to low tax countries...

The study showed about 28 percent of large foreign corporations, those with more than $250 million in assets, doing business in the United States paid no federal income taxes in 2005 despite $372 billion in gross receipts, the senators said. About 25 percent of the largest U.S. companies paid no federal income taxes in 2005 despite $1.1 trillion in gross sales that year, they said.

Posted by: Russ at May 12, 2010 12:51 PM