Responding to their critics, R&R link to their data from This Time Is Different. I visited their data.
I browsed by country, clicked on the United States, and clicked on Debt to GDP Ratios. Nothing seemed to happen, so I clicked it again. Then I checked my downloads folder and found two copies of their Excel file.
Then I bothered to read the twice-clicked Debt to GDP Ratios line: Debt to GDP Ratios country T-Z.xls, it says. See those last three letters there? XLS? I might have known it was downloading an excel file, if I read all the way to the end.
Well, that's all the funny stuff for today.
So I looked at the file. It defaults to a Contents sheet identifying the authors (a useful detail) and lists the countries for which the numbers are presented on other sheets; that's a nice touch.
I went right away to the US data. The data sources are identified, and three columns of Debt/GDP numbers are provided, along with a "Year" column, of course.
The three different measures are
- Total (domestic plus external) gross central government debt/GDP (1790-2010)
- Total (domestic plus external) gross general government debt/GDP (1980-2010)
- Total (public plus private) gross external debt/GDP (1970-2010)
I want to see how these measures compare to FRED's "Total Credit Market Debt Owed" (TCMDO), to the Federal government's portion of TCMDO, and to the Gross Federal debt. To make the comparison I'll show the FRED measures as debt/GDP, the same as Reinhart and Rogoff do.
The FRED numbers are all annual data, same as R&R. The start dates on the FRED numbers vary. Three of the series start at 1950, one at 1939. So I deleted R&R values from before 1939, leaving a minimum of two series to look at:
|FRED's "Total Credit Market Debt Owed" (Green) Towers Above All the Rest|
The R&R debt numbers most certainly do exclude most of the debt in the US.
One other interesting thing on this graph: a significant increase in US "external" debt, as shown by the "R&R External" item.