This paper discusses the impact of recent tumultuous economic events and policy interventions on the Federal fiscal picture for the immediate future and for the longer run.
In 2009, the federal deficit will be larger as a share of the economy than at any time since World War II. The current deficit is due in part to economic weakness and the stimulus, and in part to policy choices made in the past. What is more troubling is that, under what we view as optimistic assumptions, the deficit is projected to average at least $1 trillion per year for the 10 years after 2009, even if the economy returns to full employment and the stimulus package is allowed to expire in two years.
The longer-run picture is even bleaker. We estimate a fiscal gap – the immediate and permanent increase in taxes or reduction in spending that would keep the long-term debt/GDP ratio at its current level -about 7-9 percent of GDP, or between $1 trillion and $1.3 trillion per year in current dollars.
Recent trends in credit default swap markets show a clearly discernable uptick in the perceived likelihood of default on 5-year U.S. senior Treasury debt, a notion that was virtually unthinkable in the past. While it is difficult to know exactly how to interpret these results, it is clear that – although fiscal policy problems are usually described as medium- and long-term issues – the future may be upon us much sooner than previously expected.