Friday, October 12, 2012

The "Burden of Debt" versus the Burden of a Weak Economy

"... The burden of the debt only exists if there is reason to believe that debt is somehow displacing investment in private capital, which is certainly not true at present. 
I would probably argue the case even more strongly. In a depressed economy like we have today, there is reason to believe that the deficit, by boosting demand, is actually increasing investment, thereby making future generations wealthier. There is also the issue of human capital, that by keeping workers employed and keeping families intact, it is improving the productive capacities of the labor force in the future. 
Perhaps most importantly,it is essential that people understand that the measure of the burden of the debt in future generations is not the size of the debt, but the extent to which we believe the debt has reduced output in the future compared to a counter-factual where we did not run the debt. If the debt did not reduce the economies' future productive capabilities (or even raised them) then there is no burden of the debt. In any case, how well we are treating our children is measured first and foremost by the health and the economy and the society we pass on to them, not the amount of government debt."

(Emphasis added by me)

This is part of why it makes sense to put deficit spending into fixing the output gap. While the economy is rolling, it's rolling slower than it ought to be. If we use deficit spending to push our economy up to its potential, we pass on a more healthy economy to our children.

Real GDP versus potential GDP

(For other related comments, see Mark Thoma's "Bogus Arguments about the Burden of the Debt")

And the reverse also holds. In a depressed economy, austerity should shrink what we're handing to our children. Apparently the IMF is starting to learn that lesson about Europe, though as Krugman points out, the GOP seems not to have caught on to the lesson.

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