The United States is at a crossroads in terms of its culture. A corporate democracy such as this one sees elected officials willing to deficit spend on programs designed to buy votes from an electorate increasingly under stress due to the uncertainty of an economy that may not be able to provide for their wants and needs. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), America’s fiscal year 2021 budget deficit is approximately $3.003 trillion. While estimated revenues totaled $3.842 trillion, FY2021 outlays were estimated at $6.845 trillion. Fiscal year 2020 saw estimated revenues at $3.420 trillion with outlays estimated at $6.552 trillion. The FY2020 deficit was higher than FY2021, coming in at $3.142 trillion.
I would expect the Administration to argue that the last two years saw the federal government increasing its outlays to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, but if we go back 40 years, we find not only expected increases in outlays and revenues, but increases in outlays far outstrip increases in revenues. For example, FY1982 outlays were $.746 trillion compared to FY2021 outlays of $6.845 trillion, amounting to a 818% increase over the 40 year period. The increase in revenues over the same period amounted to 522%, where FY1982 revenues totaled $.618 trillion and FY2021 revenues came in at $3.842 trillion.
In addition, mandatory spending, which is dictated by past law that sets out mandatory requirements for spending on items such as social security, Medicare, and income security programs, increased 1,211% between FY1982 and FY2021. Meanwhile, discretionary spending, where a program is approved during the congressional appropriations process, saw a 407% increase in outlays between FY1982 and FY2021. The programs funded during this process include national defense, transportation, education, and housing.
Democracy is expensive. As politicians carve out “alphabet fiefdoms” ie, BLM, LGBQT+, Latinx, DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion programs) etc., the promises made convert into programs that have to be paid for. Low interest rates over the last decade and a half have accompanied the expansion in spending. Cheap money leads to more spending. For example, according to data from the Federal Reserve, the current prime lending rate is approximately 3.25%. This represents a 70.4% decline in the prime rate since 8 August 1983.
In addition, the rates on Treasury debt issued to fund government programs have been falling steadily since January 2000. According to data from the US Treasury, interest rates reflecting long term composite debt in excess of ten years has fallen from 6.87% in January 2000 to 1.89% in December 2021.
Democracy is expensive, but the current low interest rate environment gives American politicians the impression that democracy is affordable. With every new demand from small but vocal factions along the political spectrum, the wider the interest-rate driven deficit.
I have started to liken a currency to a coupon you get from a fast food restaurant. No matter how deep the discount, the crappier the food, the less valuable the coupon. The US Treasury-Federal Reserve Fast Food Corporation is no different. The current rate of inflation (6.8%) that destroys its spending value compounds the damage from lower rates of return and from increased government spending designed to buy votes while providing little other value to the currency holder.
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Disclaimer: The above is provided for informational purposes and should not be construed as financial or legal advice or as creating an agreement to provide financial or legal advice.