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This week's Wiki-Wednesday topic is the U.S. National Debt. If congress does not vote to increase the debt ceiling by August 2, or come up with another solution in the meantime, the implications to the U.S. economy may be far reaching. The U.S. is not alone in this - national debt is often measured as a percentage of GDP. In 2010, the US national debt was 58% of GDP but the U.K.'s was 79% and Greece's was 124%. As procurement professionals, it is important to understand the larger economic forces at play around us.

The following is an excerpt from the Wikipedia page on the United States public debt, but you can click here to read the entire page at its source.

Risks to the U.S. dollar and economy

A high debt level may affect inflation, interest rates, and economic growth. A variety of factors are placing increasing pressure on the value of the U.S. dollar, increasing the risk of devaluation or inflation and encouraging challenges to dollar's role as the world's reserve currency. If another currency or basket of currencies replaced the dollar as the reserve currency, the U.S. would face higher interest rates to attract capital, reducing economic growth for the long-term. The Economist wrote in May 2009:

"Having spent a fortune bailing out their banks, Western governments will have to pay a price in terms of higher taxes to meet the interest on that debt. In the case of countries (like Britain and America) that have trade as well as budget deficits, those higher taxes will be needed to meet the claims of foreign creditors. Given the political implications of such austerity, the temptation will be to default by stealth, by letting their currencies depreciate. Investors are increasingly alive to this danger... "[72]

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Federal Government's auditor, argues that the U.S. is on a fiscally "unsustainable" path and that politicians and the electorate have been unwilling to change this path.[16] The 2010 U.S. budget prepared by the President indicated annual debt increases of nearly $1 trillion annually through 2019, projecting the total U.S. national debt to grow to $23.3 trillion by 2019.[57] Further, the subprime mortgage crisis has significantly increased the financial burden on the U.S. government, with over $10 trillion in commitments or guarantees and $2.6 trillion in investments or expenditures as of May 2009, only some of which are included in the budget document.[73]

The U.S. also has a large trade deficit, meaning imports exceed exports. Such deficits are only possible if there is a large foreign investment, or a capital account surplus. The balance of payments identity requires that a country (such as the USA) running a current account deficit also have a capital account (investment) surplus of the same amount. In 2005, Ben Bernanke addressed the implications of the USA's high and rising current account (trade) deficit, resulting from USA imports exceeding its exports. Between 1996 and 2004, the USA current account deficit increased by $650 billion, from 1.5% to 5.8% of GDP.[74]

Debt levels may also affect economic growth rates. Economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart reported in 2010 that among the 20 advanced countries studied, average annual GDP growth was 3–4% when debt was relatively moderate or low (i.e. under 60% of GDP), but it dips to just 1.6% when debt was high (i.e. above 90% of GDP).[75]

The CBO reported several types of risk factors related to rising debt levels in a July 2010 publication:

  • A growing portion of savings would go towards purchases of government debt, rather than investments in productive capital goods such as factories and computers, leading to lower output and incomes than would otherwise occur;
  • If higher marginal tax rates were used to pay rising interest costs, savings would be reduced and work would be discouraged;
  • Rising interest costs would force reductions in important government programs;
  • Restrictions to the ability of policymakers to use fiscal policy to respond to economic challenges; and
  • An increased risk of a sudden fiscal crisis, in which investors demand higher interest rates.[76]

The Point

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