Cato Institute:Spending is our problem Part 3

Cato Institute:Spending is our problem Part 3

Uploaded by on Feb 15, 2011

Dan Mitchell, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, speaks at Moving Forward on Entitlements: Practical Steps to Reform, NTUF’s entitlement reform event at CPAC, on Feb. 11, 2011.


People think that we need to raise more revenue but I say we need to cut spending. Take a look at a portion of this article from the Cato Institute:

The Damaging Rise in Federal Spending and Debt

by Chris Edwards

Joint Economic Committee
United States Congress

Joint Economic CommitteeUnited States Congress

Added to on September 20, 2011

This testimony was delivered on September 20, 2011.

Harmful Effects of Deficit Spending

Federal deficit spending has exploded. Even with the recent passage of the Budget Control Act, the deficit is still expected to be about $1 trillion next year. The damage caused by this spending includes:

1. Transferring resources from higher-valued private activities to lower-valued government activities. With government spending already at 41 percent of GDP, new spending will likely have a negative return, which will reduce output.
2. Creating pressure to increase taxes in the future, which would reduce growth. Higher taxes impose “deadweight losses” on the economy of at least $1 for every $2 of added revenues, as discussed below.
3. Increasing federal debt, which creates economic uncertainty and a higher risk of financial crises, as Europe’s woes illustrate. Research indicates that economic growth tends to fall as debt rises above about 90 percent of GDP, as discussed below.

Economists in the Keynesian tradition dispute the first point. They believe that the demand-side “stimulus” benefits of spending are so important that they outweigh the problems of microeconomic distortions and misallocations caused by federal programs. However, it is very difficult to see any economic boost from the huge deficit spending of recent years.

The total Keynesian stimulus in recent years includes not only the 2009 stimulus package of more than $800 billion, but the total amount of federal deficit spending. We’ve had deficit spending of $459 billion in fiscal 2008, $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2009, $1.3 trillion in fiscal 2010, and $1.3 trillion in fiscal 2011. Despite that huge supposed stimulus, U.S. unemployment remains at high levels and the current recovery has been the slowest since World War II.5

The Obama administration claimed that there are large “multiplier” benefits of federal spending, but the recent spending spree seems to have mainly just suppressed private-sector activities.6 Stanford University’s John Taylor took a detailed look at GDP data over recent years, and he found little evidence of any benefits from the 2009 stimulus bill.7 Any “sugar high” to the economy from spending increases was apparently small and short-lived. Harvard University’s Robert Barro estimates that any small multiplier benefits that the stimulus bill may have had is greatly outweighed by the future damage caused by higher taxes and debt.8

John Taylor recently testified that deficit-spending stimulus actions “have not only been ineffective, they have lowered investment and consumption demand by increasing concerns about the federal debt, another financial crisis, threats of inflation or deflation, higher taxes, or simply more interventions. Most businesses have plenty of cash to invest and create jobs. They’re sitting on it because of these concerns.”9

As federal debt grows larger, the problems caused by fiscal uncertainty will get magnified. The CBO notes that “growing federal debt also would increase the probability of a sudden fiscal crisis, during which investors would lose confidence in the government’s ability to manage its budget and the government would thereby lose its ability to borrow at affordable rates. Such a crisis would . . . probably have a very significant negative impact on the country.”10

Research by economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart found that government debt burdens above 90 percent of GDP are associated with lower economic growth.11 After examining data on dozens of countries, they concluded that “high debt is associated with slower growth; a relationship which is robust across advanced and emerging markets.”12 High debt can also be associated with inflation crises, “financial repression,” and other problems. Furthermore, high public and private debt acts as a “contagion amplifier” in the globalized economy.

A new paper by economists at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) similarly found that when government debt in OECD countries rises above a threshold of about 85 percent of GDP, economic growth is slower.13 As debt rises, borrowers become increasingly sensitive to changes in interest rates and other shocks. “Higher nominal debt raises real volatility, increases financial fragility, and reduces average growth,” the authors note.14

The BIS economists conclude that countries should build a “fiscal buffer” by keeping its debt well below the danger threshold. They note that without major reforms, debt-to-GDP levels will soar in coming decades in most advanced economies due to population aging. Thus, one more reason for the United States to cut its spending and debt is to help it weather future financial crises spilling over from countries that are in even worse shape than we are.

5 See Joint Economic Committee, “Uncharted Depths: Welcome to Barack Obama’s ‘Recover Bummer,'” Republican Staff, June 23, 2011. And see the comments of economists Robert Gordon and Robert Hall at
6 See Robert J. Barro, “Government Spending Is No Free Lunch,” Wall Street Journal, January 22, 2009; John F. Cogan and John B. Taylor, “The Obama Stimulus Impact? Zero,” Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2010; John H. Cochrane, “Fiscal Stimulus, Fiscal Inflation, or Fiscal Fallacies,” University of Chicago Booth School of Business, February 27, 2009.
7 John Taylor, Testimony to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight, and Government Spending, February 16, 2011.
8 Robert J. Barro, “The Stimulus Evidence One Year Later,” Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2010.
9 John Taylor, Testimony to the Senate Finance Committee, Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth, September 13, 2011.
10 Congressional Budget Office, “Long-Term Budget Outlook,” June 2011, p. 22.
11 The authors summarize their findings in Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, “A Decade of Debt,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 16827, February 2011.
12 Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, “A Decade of Debt,” National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 16827, February 2011, p. 5.
13 Stephen Cecchetti, M.S. Mohanty, and Fabrizio Zampolli, “The Real Effects of Debt,” Bureau for International Settlements, September 2011.
14 Stephen Cecchetti, M.S. Mohanty, and Fabrizio Zampolli, “The Real Effects of Debt,” Bureau for International Settlements, September 2011, p. 4.

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