Sunday, June 21, 2009

US public debt since 1945 - inflation-adjusted

Sources: Treasury Direct, Robert Sahr. Click to enlarge.

Presiding over indebtedness... or as helpless as King Canute?


James Higham said...

Where are you going with this, Sackers?

Sackerson said...

Trying to provide a better understanding of the scale of the problem - I'm building up data.

It does seem that Republican Presidents have been more spendthrift in recent years, despite coming from the Party that claims to be against Big Government. So far, only Clinton seems to have tried to put on the brakes, though that may have been Congress undermining his spending plans out of sectarian spite.

Paddington said...

Clinton was the only President of recent years under whom the government *actually* shrank. Perhaps it's because he is an economist, and so better with numbers?

James Higham said...

Hmmmmmm. I'm going to look at this one.

Fay Paxton said...

Your charts are beautiful, but they are all wrong. The Bush fiscal year ended September 30, 2009; all debt through 2009 would be attributed to Bush.

President Obama's fiscal year began October 1, 2009. His first fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2010. The deficit fell by 8%.

Your chart has President Obama's picture situated over year 2008. He was not sworn into the presidency until January 20, 2009.

Sackerson said...

Thank you for the correction, Fay, and for your visit. I was just being a bit cheeky; really each President must live with some of the consequences of decisions of previous administrations, at least for the first year or two. It does seem that Clinton and Carter did slow down the debt growth a bit, though, which isn't what you'd expect if you listened to those who like to castigate Democrats as reckless spenders of public money.

Hope you come by again.

The Arthurian said...

Sackerson, hi.

I struggle to understand the meaning of a graph that takes accumulated debt and divides it by a price-level series.

Debt is typically created in nominal dollars, and therefore inflation makes it easier to repay debt. So it seems to me that debt is "automatically" adjusted for inflation.

Dividing inflation out of such numbers seems like taking inflation out a second time, from an economic (if not a mathematical) point of view.

What interests me is to suppose that there was no inflation, but everything else is unchanged, and to calculate the size of accumulated debt under those conditions. The accumulation would be much larger, in that situation.

Can you help me clarify this notion?

Your graph is interesting. Basically flat until Reagan (or maybe until 1974 (or, maybe, until 1970)) and then monstrously up.

But might this not be simply a result of the trend-change from increasing inflation, to disinflation? And this change being factored into the numbers twice, by two different methods?

I need another cup of coffee.

Sackerson said...

Hi, Arthurian. Just trying to see things "in real terms". For a long time, US public debt increased no faster than consumer price inflation, then under Reagan it appears to have started its steep rise. The causes are presumably complex - ? something to do with the trade with China and the withering of the US manufacturing sector?

But since posting this, I've looked at something you're familiar with, total credit market debt, and even now there's not enough public awareness of the scale and nature of the problem. The Right hijacks the debate and witters on about the evils of Big Government, ignoring the growth of Big Banking.

But I also though it was intersting to look at the speed of public debt growth under R & D Presidents, as a counter to the notion that conservatives re better at restraining public finances.

The Arthurian said...

Hello again, Sackerson. (I'm still thinking about the inflation-adjustment of debt.)

"Just trying to see things "in real terms". For a long time, US public debt increased no faster than consumer price inflation..."

It occurs to me now: Have you seen JW Mason's PDF Fisher Dynamics in Household Debt ?

He looks at the effects of interest rates, growth rates, and inflation rates on debt accumulation. Might interest you, I thought.

Sackerson said...

Hi Arthurian, and thanks for the link. Bit heavy for me, especially since I'm mentally very tired just now, but clearly the author considers systematic default to be a useful tool in re-setting.