Budget Deficits (Expenses Exceed Revenues)
Read this section to learn about revenues and expenses in the federal budget. In the year of an election, the candidates promise to reduce government spending. Usually, this does not happen. The yearly deficit continues to add to the national debt. Some U.S. citizens think that government spending helps the economy grow. Others believe that government spending comes out of the hands of consumers and business owners, thereby slowing growth. After you read, write a paragraph that expresses your thoughts on this argument.
The other economic tool used by the government is fiscal policy, its program of taxation and spending. By cutting taxes or by increasing spending, the government can stimulate the economy. Look again at Exhibit 1.6. The more government buys from businesses, the greater the business revenues and output. Likewise, if consumers or businesses have to pay less in taxes, they will have more income to spend for goods and services. Tax policies in the United States therefore affect business decisions. High corporate taxes can make it harder for U.S. firms to compete with companies in countries with lower taxes. As a result, companies may choose to locate facilities overseas to reduce their tax burden.
Nobody likes to pay taxes, although we grudgingly accept that we have to. Although most U.S. citizens complain that they are overtaxed, we pay lower taxes per capita (per person) than citizens in many countries similar to ours. In addition, our taxes represent a lower percentage of gross income and GDP compared to most countries.
Taxes are, of course, the major source of revenue for our government. Every year, the president prepares a budget for the coming year based upon estimated revenues and expenditures. Congress receives the president's report and recommendations and then, typically, debates and analyzes the proposed budget for several months. The president's original proposal is always modified in numerous ways. Exhibit 1.9 shows the sources of revenue and expenses for the U.S. budget.
Exhibit 1.9 Revenues and Expenses for the Federal Budget
Whereas fiscal policy has a major impact on business and consumers, continual increases in government spending raises another important issue. When government takes more money from business and consumers (the private sector), a phenomenon known as crowding out occurs. Here are three examples of crowding out:
- The government spends more on public libraries, and individuals buy fewer books at bookstores.
- The government spends more on public education, and individuals spend less on private education.
- The government spends more on public transportation, and individuals spend less on private transportation.
In other words, government spending is crowding out private spending.
If the government spends more for programs (social services, education, defense) than it collects in taxes, the result is a federal budget deficit. To balance the budget, the government can cut its spending, increase taxes, or do some combination of the two. When it cannot balance the budget, the government must make up any shortfalls by borrowing (just like any business or household).
In 1998, for the first time in a generation, there was a federal budget surplus (revenue exceeding spending) of about $71 billion. That budget surplus was short lived, however. By 2005, the deficit was more than $318 billion. In the fiscal year of 2009, the federal deficit was at an all-time high of more than $1.413 trillion. Six years later, at the end of the 2015 fiscal year, the deficit decreased to $438 billion. The U.S. government has run budget deficits for many years. The accumulated total of these past deficits is the national debt, which now amounts to about $19.8 trillion, or about $61,072 for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Total interest on the debt is more than $2.5 trillion a year. To cover the deficit, the U.S. government borrows money from people and businesses in the form of Treasury bills, Treasury notes, and Treasury bonds. These are federal IOUs that pay interest to their owners.
The national debt is an emotional issue debated not only in the halls of Congress, but by the public as well. Some believe that deficits contribute to economic growth, high employment, and price stability. Others have the following reservations about such a high national debt:
- Not Everyone Holds the Debt: The government is very conscious of who actually bears the burden of the national debt and keeps track of who holds what bonds. If only the rich were bondholders, then they alone would receive the interest payments and could end up receiving more in interest than they paid in taxes. In the meantime, poorer people, who held no bonds, would end up paying taxes that would be transferred to the rich as interest, making the debt an unfair burden to them. At times, therefore, the government has instructed commercial banks to reduce their total debt by divesting some of their bond holdings. That's also why the Treasury created savings bonds. Because these bonds are issued in relatively small denominations, they allow more people to buy and hold government debt.
- It Crowds Out Private Investment: The national debt also affects private investment. If the government raises the interest rate on bonds to be able to sell them, it forces private businesses, whose corporate bonds (long-term debt obligations issued by a company) compete with government bonds for investor dollars, to raise rates on their bonds to stay competitive. In other words, selling government debt to finance government spending makes it more costly for private industry to finance its own investment. As a result, government debt may end up crowding out private investment and slowing economic growth in the private sector.
Source: Rice University, https://openstax.org/books/introduction-business/pages/1-5-achieving-macroeconomic-goals
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