Saturday, September 3, 2011

Looking Backward

The accumulation of debt peaked in the first quarter of 2009, according to FRED TCMDO. Or, in 2009, if you look at the annual numbers.

According to the Historical Statistics, Bicentennial Edition, the accumulation of debt peaked in 1930, near the start of the Great Depression.

Aligning those peaks and looking backward shows this:

The blue line goes back to 1916, the oldest debt number I have. The red line goes back to 1989. The red stops at 2010, the blue at 1934.

Now I want to look at the Federal debt and make a similar comparison. I want to look at "public" debt of the Depression-era, relative to the 1930 peak, and "Federal" debt of the current era, relative to the 2009 peak. To put these in context, I'll also show the trend lines from the graph above.

The gold line -- PUBLIC -- is government debt around the time of the Great Depression. (I suppose this includes state and local governments in addition to Federal.) The green line is Federal debt around the time of the current Depression. (This is the $10T debt held by the public, not the $14T gross Federal debt.)

I expected the Federal debt to be much higher now than during the Great Depression, and I'm frankly surprised that it is not. Yeah, maybe, if we were to use the $14 trillion Federal number, and subtract from the old series the state and local debt, the picture would be different. And perhaps I or someone can get a few interesting posts out of that. But not today.

Today I am surprised to see that public debt in the years before the Great Depression was something like twice as high as Federal debt in the years before the current Depression. Until recently, of course.

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