October 12, 2013
President Barack Obama is adamant that he will not be held “hostage” by the Republicans in the House of Representatives, who are threatening not to raise the U.S. debt ceiling without some concessions on future spending and Obamacare. If the debt limit is not raised, allowing the Treasury Department to borrow more money, the federal government will default on some of the bills it owes in the next couple of weeks. Lots of commentators believe that such a default would have significant, if not devastating, downside economic effects.
Maybe so. But we should also want to consider the ways a relentlessly rising level of debt could damage our economic prospects. The debt ceiling for the United States is currently set at $16.7 trillion. In 2000, the U.S. national debt stood at $5.7 trillion. The amount of the U.S. national debt is now roughly the same size as the annual output of the economy. Is this a problem?
Yes, suggests recent research by numerous macroeconomists. Specifically, they find that a big public debt “overhang” likely slows down future economic growth for more than two decades. In other words, excessive national debt racked up now will make future Americans considerably poorer than they would have been otherwise.