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Public Debt in the USA: How Much, How Bad and Who Pays?

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  • Willem H. Buiter

Abstract

The USA is in the middle of the pack of industrial countries as regards the public debt-GOP and public deficit-GOP ratios. The period since 1980 is the only peace-time period outside the Great Depression to see a sustained increase in the debt-GOP ratio. The budgetary retrenchment planned by the Clinton administration is likely to prove insufficient to achieve a sustainable path. although the remaining permanent primary (noninterest) gap is small: between 0.1% and 1.0% of GOP. The maximal amount of seigniorage revenue that can be extracted at a constant rate of inflation is not far from the recent historical value of less that 0.5% of GOP. Subtracting net public sector investment from the conventional budget deficit is likely to overstate the government revenue producing potential of public sector investment. Public debt matters when markets are incomplete and/or lump-sum taxes are restricted. Future interest payments associated with the public debt are not equivalent to currently expected future transfer payments. Even ignoring the distortionary character of most real-world taxes and transfers. and holding constant the government's exhaustive spending program, the "generational accounts" are therefore not a sufficient statistic for the effect on aggregate consumption of the government's tax-transfer program. Solving the immediate budgetary problems still leaves the much more serious macroeconomic problems of an undersized US Federal government sector and an inadequate US national saving rate.

Suggested Citation

  • Willem H. Buiter, 1993. "Public Debt in the USA: How Much, How Bad and Who Pays?," NBER Working Papers 4362, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4362
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    Cited by:

    1. Nina Budina & Sweder Van Wijnbergen, 2001. "Fiscal deficits, monetary reform and inflation stabilization in romania," Journal of Economic Policy Reform, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 4(3), pages 165-194.
    2. Alan J. Auerbach & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1994. "Generational Accounting: A Meaningful Way to Evaluate Fiscal Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 8(1), pages 73-94, Winter.
    3. Dohse, Dirk & Krieger-Boden, Christiane & Soltwedel, Rüdiger, 1996. "Schleswig-Holstein: Standortpolitik in schwieriger Zeit," Kiel Discussion Papers 272, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
    4. Uhlig, H.F.H.V.S., 1997. "Capital Income Taxation and the Sustainability of Permanent Primary Deficits," Discussion Paper 1997-11, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E31 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Price Level; Inflation; Deflation
    • E41 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Demand for Money

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