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The US Current Account Deficit: A Re-examination of the Role of Private Saving

  • Charles Engel

    (University of Wisconsin)

The large recent US current account deficits have been the subject of an enormous amount of study in academia, among government and central bank economists, in business economic reports, and in the press. Many different explanations of the cause of the deficit have been offered, and to varying degrees we believe that all may have played a role: low private saving in the US; large public-sector budget deficits; a ‘glut’ of savings in the rest of world; and, perhaps even a misalignment of nominal exchange rates. In this paper we explore the role of one other factor that also has been mentioned prominently: private saving in the US is low because income growth is expected to be strong. We rework the standard neoclassical two-country model to show how a country will be a net borrower when its future share of world GDP is expected to increase above its current share. Our research ultimately is motivated by the question of whether the US current account is ‘sustainable’. The way we approach the question is to see whether the high level of US spending currently is compatible with an optimal path of borrowing. In particular, what assumptions about expected future growth of the US’s share of world output could justify its current account deficit? We show that if the deficit can be explained by higher future income shares, then the size of the real depreciation, that may otherwise be required to reduce the deficit, may be quite small.

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Paper provided by Reserve Bank of Australia in its series RBA Research Discussion Papers with number rdp2005-09.

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Date of creation: Nov 2005
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Handle: RePEc:rba:rbardp:rdp2005-09
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  1. Oliveira Martins, Joaquim & Gonand, Frédéric & Antolín, Pablo & de la Maisonneuve, Christine & Yoo, Kwang-Yeol, 2005. "The Impact of Ageing on Demand, Factor Markets and Growth," Economics Papers from University Paris Dauphine 123456789/11049, Paris Dauphine University.
  2. Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas & Hélène Rey, 2007. "From World Banker to World Venture Capitalist: U.S. External Adjustment and the Exorbitant Privilege," NBER Chapters, in: G7 Current Account Imbalances: Sustainability and Adjustment, pages 11-66 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. David Backus & Espen Henriksen & Frederic Lambert & Chris Telmer, 2005. "Current Account Fact and Fiction," 2005 Meeting Papers 115, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  4. Obstfeld, Maurice & Rogoff, Kenneth S, 2005. "The Unsustainable US Current Account Position Revisited," Center for International and Development Economics Research, Working Paper Series qt4f63x50j, Center for International and Development Economics Research, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  5. Kraay, Aart & Ventura, Jaume, 2005. "The Dot-Com Bubble, the Bush Deficits, and the US Current Account," CEPR Discussion Papers 5157, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Edwin M. Truman, 2005. "Postponing Global Adjustment: An Analysis of the Pending Adjustment of Global Imbalances," Working Paper Series WP05-6, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  7. Richard H. Clarida & Manuela Goretti & Mark P. Taylor, 2007. "Are There Thresholds of Current Account Adjustment in the G7?," NBER Chapters, in: G7 Current Account Imbalances: Sustainability and Adjustment, pages 169-204 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Sebastian Edwards, 2005. "Is the U.S. Current Account Deficit Sustainable? And If Not, How Costly is Adjustment Likely To Be?," NBER Working Papers 11541, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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