Let's start with the number that has us by the balls -- the Federal debt:
|Graph #1: The Federal Debt|
Here, let me point out that I didn't say it rightly has us by the balls. Of course, I didn't say it wrongly has us, either... Oh, but you know? I did say that. Probably a hundred times on this blog, if not in so many words. And you know it, too.
It was always my intent to skip this drivel, and just show you some graphs, and tell you what I see. But it turns out that people don't read carefully. And they already have their own conclusions. Well, not their own, but somebody else's conclusions that they parrot as their own. And those people cannot really see what I'm showing them, because they are unwilling to take it one step at a time.
They prefer to reject every step along the way. You know, like idiots.
Anyway, if you look at Graph #1, the Federal debt seems to run essentially flat until, oh, the 1974 recession. Or at least until 1970.
But guess what... It doesn't even run flat in the years before 1970:
|Graph #2: The Federal Debt To 1970|
The Federal debt increased about 35% in the dozen years or so between 1957 and 1970. (Compare that to the 100% increase -- from 2000 billion to 4000 billion -- in a dozen or so years from the latter 1980s to the latter 1990s on Graph #1. And that's not the fastest increase. It is just easy to see.) So the Federal debt was on the increase in those early years, if at a slow pace.
Oh, by the way, the above graphs show the Federal government's portion of "credit market debt", essentially the same as the portion "held by the public".
|Graph #3: Measures of the Federal Debt|
The green line is the "gross" Federal debt. It includes the part held by the public and also the part held by various Federal agencies -- Social Security, and like that.
FYI, for the rest of the graphs in this post we're looking at "credit market" debt, not "gross" debt.
Attention Idiots: Please notice that I still have not said anything about whether or not the Federal debt is a problem. We're just looking at it. Gathering a little information. Confirming things we know, and maybe learning a thing or two. (My memory's not the best, so I can learn things today that I might have learned before.)
Okay. On Graph #1 we looked at the Federal debt. But it was just dollars of debt. Or... you know, billions of dollars of debt. But there's no "context". We can see the debt is higher at the end than at the start. But we don't really know how that fits to the economy.
Yeah, I know: We do know. Or probably you do know. But we have not looked at it yet in this post. You know what that means? It means you're not allowed to discuss how it fits to the economy. Not yet. You still have to be patient and wait and pretend that you're interested. Because I still didn't get to the point.
If we go back and get the data from Graph #1, Federal debt for 1950-2015, we can give it a context by showing it "relative to GDP":
We're looking at the US data that Reinhart and Rogoff were looking at in Growth in a Time of Debt (PDF, 6 pages).
And we're looking at the US data in A contribution to the Reinhart and Rogoff debate: not 90 percent but maybe 30 percent (via Reddit).
Now, idiots, I'm getting to the point.
When you look at the Federal debt relative to GDP there are lots of things you're not looking at. The usual practice among economists, I guess, is to say ceteris paribus, "with other things the same".
Well... one of the things left out, when you look at the Federal debt relative to GDP, is the debt of everybody other than the Federal government. That's a lot to leave out, all by itself. And the debt of everybody else was not "the same", unchanged and unchanging, while the Federal debt was growing.
Let's look at that.
Graph #4, above, shows the Federal government's part of credit market debt, relative to GDP. It's in blue on Graph #4. The same data is shown again, in blue, on Graph #5:
The red line, by itself, peaks at 320% of GDP. Add the blue and red together, and you're up around 350% of GDP at the peak. That's 3½ times the value of all the goods and services produced that year, 2009 or whatever year it was.
That's a lot of debt.
And that makes me think: Maybe we're using the wrong "context" variable. Rather than looking at debt "relative to GDP", why not look at debt relative to debt? Why not look at the Federal part of credit market debt as a percent of credit market debt? And why not look at the rest of credit market debt, other than Federal, as a percent of credit market debt? Why not?
|Graph #6: Federal and Other Shares of Total Credit Market Debt|
If excessive debt is the problem, it's not the Federal part that's giving us trouble. It's our part. And I think we know that. We all want out of debt.
And that's a damn good idea.