Archive for the ‘Government Deficit’ Category

The Cost of “Bernie Care”

September 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Senator Bernie Sanders has expressed support for and formally introduced a plan for a health insurance system to be run by the federal government which has been called “Bernie Care” in some media outlets.  A number of other Democratic politicians have also expressed support for this idea. This is quite likely to be the Democratic Party response to the problems with Obamacare. Indeed Barack Obama expressed his own support for this national health insurance program before his first election as President (I saw the videotape of his statements at that time) but he claimed the country was not yet ready for such a health insurance program. What would such a program cost? The Urban Institute has published a study to answer this question. Read more…


Tax-Income Ratios in G7 Countries

September 13, 2017 Leave a comment

In a previous post, I provided data on the ratio of tax receipts to GDP in the U.S. It was shown that the U.S. ratio fluctuated around 20 percent of GDP since 1960. Here I provide data on the remaining G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom) which illustrates how different the U.S. is from many European economies. Below is a graph of the data drawn from the OECD (the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) covering 1995 to 2015.

The graph shows that tax-income ratios are much higher in the six G7 countries than they are

in the U.S. In 1995, the tax shares ranged from a low of 27 percent in Japan to a high of 43 percent in France. By 2015,  the tax shares range from 32 percent in Japan to 48 percent in France. In short, none of the six countries has a tax share as low as the U.S.

The Entitlements Crisis

The aging of the U.S. population is increasing the transfer payments made by the U.S. government and the obvious question is how the U.S. will finance these payments. It is unlikely that this can be done by borrowing (it is doubtful that the U.S. can borrow trillions of dollars each year) so this suggests that the tax-income ratios in Europe are what may be imposed in the U.S. as the entitlements crisis unfolds. This is what is meant by the charge that many politicians want to turn the U.S. into a European welfare state. What remains to be seen is if the U.S. taxpayers will agree to such a historically large increase in the tax-income ratio in the U.S.

The U.S. Tax-Income Ratio

August 17, 2017 1 comment

I recently saw a news report about federal government tax receipts and I began to wonder what trends, if any, have been present in the public’s support of government as measured by its tax payments. Most media reports that I have seen focus on the dollar amounts of federal government tax revenue but it is more informative to include state and local governments as well so that we can get a more accurate measure of public tax payments to the government.

But rather than looking at tax payments in dollars, it is more useful to look at tax shares of our incomes. The economy grows over time and so it is more informative to see what fraction of our incomes are paid to the government so that we can adjust for the size of the economy as it changes through time. For this post, I will use Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of our incomes and I will use Federal plus State and Local receipts to capture the revenues of all sorts that flow to the government. All of the data was drawn from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank FRED database which is freely available to the public. The data is annual and it covers 1929 through 2016. Read more…

The Government Deficit and the Fed

April 13, 2017 1 comment

The Federal Reserve recently announced an increase in the interest rate which it sets. This has implications for the government deficit which may not be well understood by the average person so I thought that it might make sense to discuss the connection between the Federal Reserve and the government deficit. What this discussion reveals is that the Fed has been helping to finance the government deficit in the U.S.

The Consolidated Government Budget Constraint

There is a relationship between the government and the Fed known as the Consolidated Government Budget Constraint that is written below.

Spending + Interest Payments + Net Transfer Payments =

Tax Receipts + Change in the Stock of Debt + Change in the Monetary Base

The items on the left side of the equal sign are the uses of the government’s funds. Spending refers to the fact that the government buys goods and services, it makes interest payments to the holders of government debt, and it makes transfer payments to individuals in the economy. The right side of the equation is the list of sources for the government’s spending. It receives tax payments, it issues or retires bonds, and the last item reflects bond purchases or sales by the Federal Reserve. It is these last two items that reflect the connection between the Fed and the government deficit. Read more…

The Unfunded Liabilities of the Social Security System

March 24, 2016 Leave a comment

The Trustees of the Social Security System issue a report each year on the overall state of the system.  The 2015 report is available publicly ( Consider the following statement in the Overview section of this recently-released report.

The open group unfunded obligation for OASDI over the 75-year period is $10.7 trillion in present value….

In the above statement, OASDI stands for Old Age and Survivors Disability Insurance, the formal name for the Social Security program. The statement seems shocking because it suggests an enormous payment of benefits owed to individuals for which there is no funding source. This staggeringly large number is what is often reported in the media. But my guess is that most readers have no way of knowing how this number arises. With a bit of arithmetic, it is possible to show how it is obtained. Read more…

The Wisdom of a Balanced-Budget Amendment

December 4, 2015 2 comments

I read in the local newspaper today that there is some discussion going on in the Michigan state legislature regarding the federal government deficit. Specifically, there is a coalition of states that has begun to form that would force the federal government to convene a constitutional convention only concerned with the adoption of a balanced-budget requirement imposed on the federal government. Michigan is apparently discussing whether the state should be a part of that coalition. This development is a very good one for reasons that I will sketch below.

By allowing government deficits to exist, there has been a perversion of government policy that may well destroy our country in the future. It is all too often observed that government programs exist mainly to line the pockets of politically-connected groups, thereby enhancing the reelection prospects of the politicians handing out the subsidies. There is an enormous list of these programs. The Export-Import Bank, farm subsidies, ethanol programs, and many more (see a previous post for others) do nothing for the welfare of the country but the recipients of these programs benefit mightily. As the late Milton Friedman said many years ago, the benefits of these programs benefit a few who lobby furiously to get them, but the costs are diffuse, spreading across many people. And so the cost to each person is small and may not even be recognized by the individual bearing these costs. As a result, it is all too easy for the government to borrow to finance yet another vote-buying scheme. All it has to do is borrow to finance any new such spending program since raising tax rates may anger taxpayers.

The problem is that the United States is heading for an explosion of its entitlement costs that has been noted many times by economists (I wrote on this previously here). No economist that I know thinks that the U.S. can finance several trillion dollars in deficits and so, when these occur in the future, what is to be done?

Read more…


February 20, 2015 Leave a comment

Greece has a newly-elected government which campaigned on the promise that, if elected, it would renegotiate the bailout terms that previously were imposed upon the Greek economy by a previous government and its financial bailout partners. The reason for the desire to renegotiate terms is that Greece has been in recession with high unemployment and declining output for some time and the terms of the bailout require higher taxes and reduced spending, among other things, as a requirement for loans to keep the government from defaulting on its debt.  This drama seems to me to offer a number of lessons for the U.S. and other countries running persistent government deficits.

The Fallacy of Composition

Economists know that what is true for an individual in an economy is not necessarily true in the aggregate economy.  This fact is known as the Fallacy of Composition.  So if Greek politicians promise transfer payments to some Greek citizens, this does not imply that those politicians can promise such payments to all citizens.  Once you add up all the promises, one needs to ask how this will be financed and in many countries, such as the U.S., the answer is borrowing to keep these promises. Each individual wants what he or she has been promised but, if a government is unable to borrow, then what is true at the individual level cannot be true in the aggregate. Greece cannot keep all of the promises that it has made because it will not be able to continuously borrow to do so.

Greece and the EU

Greece is a member of the EU and so it cannot print money to cover its deficits if it is unable to borrow.  The reason is that Greece does not control the EU Central Bank.  If it did control its own money stock, it would undoubtedly be in the throes of a hyperinflation because it would be printing money to finance its deficits. Since it cannot print money, it sought loans to keep the party going but reduced spending and higher taxes were the price it paid for its bailout. The recession resulting from these terms are what has prompted the desire to renege on its previous agreement.

Ultimately, structural reforms are needed to promote economic growth, much like those discussed previously in this blog in connection with Italy which has problems similar to Greece (see Why Italy Declines). These reforms are so-called supply-side policies that remove regulatory and other impediments that reduce economic growth. These reforms appear not to be part of the bailout requirements but these reforms are the only way that the Greeks can achieve real economic progress.

Economics One

A blog by John B. Taylor

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One economist's views on economic policy.

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