Sunday, May 09, 2010

US National Deficit - Think $5 Trillion Annually!

9 May 2010

I often comment on other posts that contain within them facts which are so jaw-dropping that silence is impossible - for me at least!

From an old friend, John Williams, who specializes in keeping statistics far more reliable than the massaged and distorted numbers released regularly by the US government, comes the seemingly inconceivable fact that the US government is running deeper into the red by $4.5 to $5 trillion dollars per year (not the official and still mind-boggling $1.4 trillion annual figure).


Believe it or not, Mr. Williams, a meticulous statistician, simply crunched the numbers, and this was the figure he got. Why did I round this up to $5 trillion in my article title? Because important fundamental factors are steadily growing more negative - specifically the rising rate on US treasury bonds, which will gradually force the US government to pay higher and higher interest on its debt denominated in bonds, most of which are now sold to international investors (no longer true, the old saw that "we owe it to ourselves").

What exactly is Mr. Williams telling us? I quote from his Gold Report Interview:

"If you look at... GAAP-based statements and include in the deficit the year-to-year change in the net present value of the unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare, what you'll find is that the annual operating shortfall is running between $4 and $5 trillion; not $500 billion as we saw before the crisis or the $1.4 trillion that they announced for fiscal 2009. Now to put that into perspective, if the government wanted to balance its deficit on a GAAP basis for a year, and it seized all personal income and corporate profits, taxing everything 100%, it would still be in deficit. It can't raise taxes enough to contain this. On the other side, if it cut all government spending except for Social Security and Medicare, it still would be in deficit. With no political will to contain the spending, eventually the government meets its obligations by revving up the currency printing press."

Yes, you read it correctly. If US citizens paid 100% of their income, and US corporations paid 100% of their profits in taxes - it would not raise enough funds to meet the real annual shortfall!


Is this not the standard definition of bankruptcy? Yes, I think so.

For your edification, I have included several 2008 charts from Mr. Williams' Shadowstats site illustrating the scale of US unfunded liabilities in proportion to GDP. In short, the US government has a much higher liability to GDP ratio than the balance of the world, and this is the crux of the problem.

For a general review of US debt issues, click here for an excellent and detailed article in Wikipedia.

Watching the government-level default of Greece on its international debt obligations, presently playing out on the world stage, offers some instruction as to what happens when governments "go bankrupt." It is chaotic and fear-inspiring. Bear in mind, the Greek economy, with a nominal GDP of $343 billion (2008), making it the 27th largest in the world, constitutes only 2.08% of the combined fiscal activity of the European Union (that figure is $339 billion in terms of purchasing power parity, or PPP, the metric by which China is rapidly catching up to and overtaking the US in financial power). Greece has defaulted on its obligations about half the time since it became a democracy, so the Greek economy has never been particularly robust.

So, how large is the US economy, compared to the Greek economy? Well, the US, the country by which PPP is oficially measured, is the largest economy in the world, with an annual GDP estimated at $14.266 trillion in 2009. That is, the US economy is 41.6 times larger than that of Greece, or almost as large as that of the combined European Union, with an annual GDP figure of $16.447 trillion.

For the sake of interesting statistics, note that while the GDP of China is about1/3 that of the US ($4.91 trillion in 2009, third in the world), in purchasing power parity terms, the Chinese economy has now reached the $8.77 trillion level, making it the second largest national economy in the world with respect to the quite meaningful PPP metric.

Suffice it to say that Greece is small, the US is big, the European Union is very big, and China is now playing in the big leagues as well.

So if the Greek crisis is creating this kind of global firestorm, then what are the implications of the bankruptcy of the US?

Hmmm (again)...

That could be a giant-sized problem...

Mr. Williams foresees a hyperinflationary great depression for the US. Maybe - I don't know about things like that.

Here's what I do know. The news media routinely apply the phrases "global reserve currency" and "safe haven in time of crisis" to the US dollar.

Perhaps that will not always be the case. Marc Faber has commented that we have already returned to a global gold standard for functional purposes. Mr. Faber states, "I think we already have now a gold standard… created by the market place. We have the (exchange traded funds) that have proliferated and we have more and more physical buying of gold."

That's an interesting idea....

We all know that the markets can remain irrational longer than we can remain solvent (J. M. Keynes). But can the markets remain irrational longer than the US government can remain solvent? I don't think so. At some point, phrases such as "global reserve currency" and "safe haven" will not apply to the US dollar.

The good news, of course, is that those terms have been applicable to gold for thousands of years of human history. Guess what? Nothing has changed.

It's a no-brainer. Own gold and sleep well at night. Pleasant dreams....

P.S. Gold's next stop = $3000 per ounce in 2012? Maybe - click here.

Gold headed to $6000 or higher by 2019? Click here.


  1. It is increasingly appearing that 2012 will be a critical year for the gold price, and then perhaps 2018 or 2019. Look for gold in the $2-3000 range in 2012, and then for perhaps a final surge somewhere over $5000 by 2018 or 2019 - with the gold price level hinging on the extent of monetary inflation at that point.

    Secular trend theory posits that the anticipated crisis at the end of decade in 2018-2019 would force retrenchments in the global financial system that might then rationalize the price of gold as the system re-establishes itself on a post-crisis stable footing. That, of course, might follow some kind of international scheme of debt forgiveness and of the institution of austerity measures such as we have not seen in our (baby boomer) lifetimes....

  2. It amazes me how long a country can conceal from its citizens just how dire the situation is.

  3. John Williams' analysis is all based on publicly available data, but few seem to connect the dots. I thinks it is broadly recognized the trouble lies ahead, but the assumption is that it is "far in the future." Not necessarily!