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By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain the U.S. federal budget in terms of annual debt and accumulated debt
  • Understand how economic growth or decline can influence a budget surplus or budget deficit

Having discussed the revenue (taxes) and expense (spending) side of the budget, we now turn to the annual budget deficit or surplus, which is the difference between the tax revenue collected and spending over a fiscal year, which starts October 1 and ends September 30 of the next year.

[link] shows the pattern of annual federal budget deficits and surpluses, back to 1930, as a share of GDP. When the line is above the horizontal axis, the budget is in surplus; when the line is below the horizontal axis, a budget deficit occurred. Clearly, the biggest deficits as a share of GDP during this time were incurred to finance World War II. Deficits were also large during the 1930s, the 1980s, the early 1990s, and most recently during the recession of 2008–2009.

Pattern of federal budget deficits and surpluses, 1929–2014

The graph shows that federal deficit (as a percentage of GDP) skyrocketed between the late 1930s and mid-1940s. In 2009, it was around –10%. In 2014, the federal deficit was close to –3%.
The federal government has run budget deficits for decades. The budget was briefly in surplus in the late 1990s, before heading into deficit again in the first decade of the 2000s—and especially deep deficits in the recession of 2008–2009. (Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (FRED). http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/FYFSGDA188S)

Debt/gdp ratio

Another useful way to view the budget deficit is through the prism of accumulated debt rather than annual deficits. The national debt    refers to the total amount that the government has borrowed over time; in contrast, the budget deficit refers to how much has been borrowed in one particular year. [link] shows the ratio of debt/GDP since 1940. Until the 1970s, the debt/GDP ratio revealed a fairly clear pattern of federal borrowing. The government ran up large deficits and raised the debt/GDP ratio in World War II, but from the 1950s to the 1970s the government ran either surpluses or relatively small deficits, and so the debt/GDP ratio drifted down. Large deficits in the 1980s and early 1990s caused the ratio to rise sharply. When budget surpluses arrived from 1998 to 2001, the debt/GDP ratio declined substantially. The budget deficits starting in 2002 then tugged the debt/GDP ratio higher—with a big jump when the recession took hold in 2008–2009.

Federal debt as a percentage of gdp, 1942–2014

The graph shows that federal debt (as a percentage of GDP) was highest in the late 1940s before steadily declining down beneath 30% in the mid-1970s. Another increase took place during the recession in 2009 where it rose to over 60% and has been rising steadily since.
Federal debt is the sum of annual budget deficits and surpluses. Annual deficits do not always mean that the debt/GDP ratio is rising. During the 1960s and 1970s, the government often ran small deficits, but since the debt was growing more slowly than the economy, the debt/GDP ratio was declining over this time. In the 2008–2009 recession, the debt/GDP ratio rose sharply. (Source: Economic Report of the President, Table B-20, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/ERP-2015/content-detail.html)

The next Clear it Up feature discusses how the government handles the national debt.

What is the national debt?

One year’s federal budget deficit causes the federal government to sell Treasury bonds to make up the difference between spending programs and tax revenues. The dollar value of all the outstanding Treasury bonds on which the federal government owes money is equal to the national debt.

Questions & Answers

how to print
Siti Reply
what is flow variable
Siyanda Reply
a flow is a quantity that can be measured over a specific period of time
is economics a social science or a pure science
Hilda Reply
social science
social science
social Science as a Subject and Pure science as a study
How to compute National income by using the expenditure approach
Bridget Reply
explain the method?
C+I+G+(X-M) C= Consumption Expenditure I= Investment Expenditure G= Government Expenditure X-M = Net Export
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What do you need? Maybe we can help
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l need some information about macroeconomic
First tell us what you already know about macroeconomic.
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yes !! am here !! Lecturer of Economics And Statistics
Macroeconomics is too vast,so please be specific your question
I need help in statistics my lecturer is too fast at times I dont understand
Briefly explain whether the discipline of economics is a social science or pure science( normative or positive)
Okafor Reply
answer.... Economics is social science
different between absolute advantage and comparative advantage
mathematical economics
masele Reply
show some questions under this topic
why met worth is added with libilitys in the balance sheet
bijoy Reply
what are the implications of inflation targeting?
Alinaitwe Reply
maximize profit
What happens to the goods and money market if the government cuts public spending?
Harman Reply
then the government will be punished by the public
GDP, INFLATION, UNEMPLOYMENT & PRODUCTIVITY and then write a paragraph on the behavior of each variable after analyzing them graphically.
what is international trade
Stella Reply
International trade is the exchange of capital, goods, and services across international borders.
international trade is the exchange of goods and services across boundaries
international trade is the exchange of goods and services of country and abroad
international is the process of exchanges of value interm of goods and services along national frontier
Increase knowdge and skill. it save time and cost. Increase high Efficiency of production .
betta Reply
List kinds of Elastcity of Demand
Is a faster rate of economic growth always a good thing as compared to a slower rate? And why?
what is unemployment
Doctor Reply
it is a situation during which workers remain jobless.
is situation where people are willing to work but job are no available
what is inflation
Sheila Reply
Inflation is a major concern to global economists, and it affects people from all walks of life. It refers to the measure or rate by which the cost of goods and services rises and purchasing power declines. As prices increase, monetary value decreases—prompting consumers to spend less on goods and s
inflation is the persistence rise in price level
Inflation is the situation during which too much money is required to purchase too few goods.
inflation is continuous increase in general price level
it is the process where too much money pursuing fewer goods

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