The indispensable Joe Weisenthal of Business Insider recently bemoaned President Obama’s failure to explain why his administration has tolerated high annual budget deficits: “[A]dding to our national debt has allowed the private sector to cut its debt (without the floor completely falling out of the bottom), while also enabling the entire economy to shrink its debt as a whole.”
Moody’s Analytics is out with new data that will only exacerbate Wiesenthal’s #facepalm. The Los Angeles Times reports:
After a long period of consumer retrenchment, U.S. families have cut their once-out-of-control debt loads down to pre-recession levels, largely removing one major obstacle to a faster economic recovery.
The amount of home mortgages, credit card debt and most other consumer liabilities now stands on par with 2006 or earlier, according to calculations by Moody’s Analytics. …
Overall, households today are paying less than 16% of after-tax income to cover debt payments and lease obligations, the smallest share since 1984, Federal Reserve data show.
In this telling, the U.S. government — and, yes, its overseas creditors, who have little reason to stand idly by while the world’s biggest economy slumps into a depression — is Atlas. Corporations and households stay aloft on its shoulders as they go about the painful but utterly necessary business of de-leveraging.
An obvious response is that we can’t continue running deficits like this in perpetuity. Yet the response to that is just as obvious, and fourfold: 1) Rhetoric about out-of-control spending in general obscures the fact that the big problem is the projected rise in spending on three programs in particular — Medicare and Medicaid most immediately, and Social Security somewhat less immediately; 2) We can’t fix those problems until the economy begins growing more robustly; 3) That won’t happen until consumers begin spending again; and 4) Consumers won’t spend until they fully resolve their own debt problems.
I don’t know about Wiesenthal, but, I remain doubtful that Obama will be championing this case for debt in tomorrow night’s debate. You can rest assured that no matter who wins in November, we’ll continue to run high short-term deficits.