Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Plan For Growth

"It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan." - Eleanor Roosevelt
We have uncomfortably high unemployment. We want that to come down. We also have an uncomfortably high deficit. That needs to drop too. What we need is a plan. One that can do both. One that can work.

Our new House majority has loudly pushed focusing on the deficit with budget cuts. The trouble, as I've previously shown and discussed in relation to specific budget cutting figures, is that any significant budget cuts are very, very likely to steer us into far higher unemployment. That would further reduce tax revenues and make the deficits worse. So that just won't work. We can't get rid of the deficit by chopping growth and making the deficit worse.

What can we do?

Well, what happens if we maintain the status quo? What happens if we proceed with spending at the exact dollar amount it is now, keep tax rates exactly where they are, and manage to keep the pace of growth at the roughly 3% estimated for 2011? (Note that spending is scheduled to shrink in 2012 with the expiration of stimulus programs and the winding down of expensive wars. So this assumes we actually spend more than is currently expected for some of these years.)

Deficit/surplus assuming budget holds steady, 3% GDP growth, and revenue stays at the current 14.81% of GDP
Interesting. We'd have a surplus by 2029 at that rate and could start reducing our debt. That's without budget cuts. That's even assuming more spending for at least one of those years than is currently projected. We'd all love to see that budget gap closed sooner, but that's going in the right direction.

OK, how can we speed that up? What happens if we go back to the 30-year average of revenue as a percentage of GDP starting in 2012 but keep all else as before, with spending staying at the 2010 dollar level and a 3% GDP growth rate?

Deficit/surplus assuming budget holds steady, 3% GDP growth, and revenue goes back to 18.2% of GDP in 2012

A bit better. That'd have the surplus and its potential paying down of the debt begin in 2022. But let's try for more. What happens if we go back to the 30-year average of revenue as a percentage of GDP starting in 2012, keep spending at the 2010 dollar level, and find some way to increase our growth rate over 3%? For the sake of charting, let's imagine we get it up to 4% in 2012, peak at 5% in 2013, and then manage 4% thereafter.

Deficit/surplus assuming budget holds steady, but revenue goes back to 18.2% of GDP and avg. 4% GDP growth from 2012
That's more like it, don't you think? If we could achieve an average 4% GDP growth over that time, we could be seeing revenue eclipse spending in 2019, assuming we keep spending at the dollar amount from 2010 and return revenue back to the 30-year average of 18.2%. That's just 8 years from now. I don't know about your kids, but that's even before my older daughter will start college.

That's fairly vague, I'll admit. I've left a lot of room for what exactly those efforts to increase the rate of GDP growth might be. Where to get the money? I'm not a defense expert, but even some conservatives are suggesting we have some fat to trim in the defense spending. Imagine if we took those proposed cuts on spending beyond what the Pentagon actually needs to do its job and transferred that money into real job creation programs.

Off the top of my head, I can come up with several ways we could be doing more to create jobs through our Federal govt:

  1. a reborn national Civilian Conservation Corp chartered for 5 with potential to renew
  2. repairs to all of our crumbling bridges (and maybe revamping some roads too)
  3. high tech research towards "green" energy and products
The first two of these would easily pay off right away. We've got a lot of unemployed construction workers, and it shouldn't take a terrible lot of retraining to put a lot of them to work in a CCC or on improving our transportation infrastructure. The research part might take a bit longer to get going, but the pay-out would go even further. Well beyond when we might have brought our unemployment down using a CCC and beefed up infrastructure projects, we could be benefiting from jobs and sales in exporting of green tech, just like we've benefited from Defense Department and NASA research in our computer industry. That's investing prudently in a future for our children.

It's time.

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