Aug 13, 2019

The cost of the "strong" U.S. economy

Data: Bureau of the Fiscal Service; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Despite massive amounts of money being pumped into the economy by both fiscal and monetary policy, U.S. growth is slowing, not accelerating.

Why it matters: Last year Congress signed a 2-year agreement to increase spending $300 billion, in part to pull the economy out of its slow-growth malaise following the financial crisis and put the U.S. back on track for 3% annual growth or higher.

  • But 2019's slowdown in GDP growth has shown that even hundreds of billions in deficit spending combined with trillions in tax cuts and bond buying aren't enough.

Driving the news: The U.S. budget deficit rose by nearly $120 billion in July, a 27% increase over a year ago, the Treasury Department announced Monday. The fiscal year deficit through July is now $866.8 billion, higher than the entire deficit from fiscal 2018 and on pace to top $1 trillion, making it the largest U.S. deficit since 2011.

  • A new agreement signed in July to avert another government shutdown and possible debt default will add an additional $320 billion in spending over the next 2 years, but will do little to increase U.S. competitiveness and growth, experts say.

Reality check: The spending binge that has taken place during the late stages of an economic recovery has U.S. GDP on pace to grow around 2% this year, which is about the average for the previous 8 years.

What they're saying: "The direct impacts and uncertainty of tariffs, trade and other policy disruptions have mitigated the intended stimulus from the individual and business tax cuts," Steve Skancke, chief economic adviser for investment manager Keel Point and a former Treasury Department official in the Reagan administration, tells Axios.

  • Worse, Skancke points out, business investment has fallen in the first and second quarters and continued corporate buybacks show companies "lack of confidence in the outlook for the economy."
  • "So far consumer sentiment has supported growth." But "it’s hard to imagine that business and trade angst won’t spread to consumers in Q3 and Q4."

The bottom line: "America should be in a boom, with three enormous fiscal-stimulus measures in the past three years," Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz wrote in an op-ed for Project Syndicate on Friday.

  • "If it takes trillion-dollar annual deficits to keep the US economy going in good times, what will it take when things are not so rosy?"

Go deeper: U.S. budget deficit blows past last year's total with 2 months to go

Go deeper

Federal budget deficit tops $1 trillion: CBO

Photo: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images


The federal deficit exceeded $1 trillion in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2019, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in a report published Monday.

The big picture: The deficit is $168 billion more than for the same period in the previous fiscal year. The growing deficit has been driven by mandatory spending in areas including Social Security and Medicare, President Trump's tax cuts, and bipartisan agreements to increase spending in areas such as defense — which contributed toward overall federal government spending increasing 7%.

Go deeperArrowSep 10, 2019

U.S. budget deficit set to hit $1 trillion 2 years earlier than expected

Photo: Rarrarorro/Getty Images

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office shows that the U.S. budget deficit is expected to breach $1 trillion by 2020, two years earlier than previously projected.

The big picture: The growing deficit has been driven by President Trump's tax cuts, increased government spending and rising health care costs. The shortfall is expected to be widened by the recent budget deal reached by Trump and Congress to lift spending caps by $320 billion, as well as the emergency spending package that Congress passed to help manage the migrant crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Washington Post reports.

Go deeperArrowAug 21, 2019

Despite promises, Trump's trade deficits are only growing

Data: U.S. Dept. of Commerce; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

President Trump's trade war has led to even bigger trade deficits with China, even though it was intended to improve the trade balance. But it's not just China — the deficit has increased with most of our other major trade partners, too.

Why it matters: While economists agree that trade deficits aren't a good way to measure a trade relationship, they are the metric Trump fixates on, made campaign promises about and uses to evaluate relationships with other countries.