Awash in Debt

In today’s commentary on debt, I won’t be talking about consumer or business debt. I’ll only be discussing government debt and why, I believe, the government intends to keep it out of control.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office reported last week that it projects this year’s U.S. federal deficit will reach $422 billion, just short of the $450 billion previously predicted. This will be the highest annual deficit ever. Last year saw the previous annual deficit record set at $375 billion.

This year’s projection means the U.S. federal government will spend $422 billion more than it will take in this year. At this pace, the federal government is borrowing about one out of every five dollars it spends. In the end, I believe the actual deficit number will be bigger. And please, keep in mind the $422-billion figure does not include deficits at the state or municipal levels.

The government is spending at a record dollar pace for several reasons; the most important, I believe, is to stimulate the economy. The news on the job front since the tech bubble burst, we must face, has been very poor. And it’s not looking to get any better any time soon. Just this past Tuesday, the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas reported planned U.S. job cuts rose 6.6% in August. We’re talking about 70,000 planned corporate job cuts in August. Of course, this will be offset by job hires, but the trend is not good.

My thinking is that the U.S. government is maybe hoping that it can create enough jobs itself to keep the overall job growth alive. This could be a good strategy if the economy itself kicks in and the private sector starts hiring again. But it could also be suicidal if the economy itself doesn’t create jobs. Government spending on defense to create domestic jobs is not the answer.

If the U.S. government continues on this path of record deficits and as the baby boomer generation continues aging and demands on Social Security and Medicare increase, there could be a debt crisis at the federal level like we’ve never seen before.

As I’ll discuss tomorrow, the only good news here is that, given the total federal debt, the government itself has a vested interest in not having interest rates rise much further.