A monthly report produced for Commerce Real Estate Solutions by Stephen P. A. Brown, PhD, Center for Business & Economic Research University of Nevada, Las Vegas Issue 19 july 2012 To receive this newsletter by e-mail, please subscribe at www.comre.com/subscribefiscal cliff raises fears of u.s. recessionIn late 2012, U.S. policymakers will be faced with making controversial decisions about the nation’sfiscal policies. As current law stands, the U.S. government will implement a number of tax increasesand spending cuts beginning in 2013. Because implementation of current law results in an abruptchange in government spending and taxation policy, the current laws are seen as creating what isknown as a “fiscal cliff.” According to many analysts, plunging over the fiscal cliff is likely to pushan already weak U.S. economy back into recession.On the other hand, postponing or cancelling Projected U.S. Government Deficits as a Percent of GDPimplementation of current laws will leave the U.S. Table 1 2012 2013 2014 2015 2020government with a large deficit and a growing debt. Current LawA failure to reduce the deficit to a sufficiently small Revenues 15.7 18.4 19.6 20.3 21.1 Outlays 22.9 22.4 21.9 21.5 21.7percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product Deficit -7.3 -4 -2.4 -1.2 -0.6(GDP) will lead to a growing debt-to-GDP ratio. Debt Held by Public 72.8 76.1 76.6 73.8 61.4 as a Percent of GDPOver time, a high debt-to-GDP ratio will weaken thelong-term prospects for economic growth. CBO’s Alternative Fiscal ScenarioIn what follows, we examine the size of the fiscal cliff Revenues 15.7 16.3 17.2 17.8 18.5 Outlays 22.9 22.8 22.9 22.5 23.3and assess its effects on U.S. economic activity. Our Deficit -7.3 -6.5 -5.6 -4.6 -4.8assessment suggests that policymakers can reduce Debt Held by Public 72.8 78.6 82.3 82.5 85.7 as a Percent of GDPthe near-term risk of recession and gain most of the Source: Congressional Budget Officebenefits of reducing the U.S. government debt-to-GDP ratio by taking a gradualist policy. Under such a by the current tax laws are the expiration of provisionspolicy, the U.S. government would gradually bring its that reduce income, estate and gift taxes (commonlybudget deficit as a percent of GDP below the growth known as Bush-era tax cuts). In addition, the reductionrate of U.S. economic activity.How Big Is the Fiscal Cliff? This report is commissioned by Commerce Real Estate SolutionsAs shown in Table 1, current law will bring big changes firstname.lastname@example.org • 801-322-2000to both U.S. government taxation and spending policiesbeginning in 2013. Some of the changes brought about
nevada’s Economy july 2012in the employee’s portion of the payroll tax will expire. GDP will be higher than the growth rate of U.S. GDP.The Affordable Care Act also will bring tax increases. Consequently, the debt-to-GDP ratio will grow. InAmong the changes to spending policies are sharp countries with high debt-to-GDP ratios, economicreductions in Medicare payment rates for physicians’ activity is strangled by high interest rates and a lack ofservices and the expiration of some unemployment investment. Reducing deficit spending contributes tobenefits. The automatic enforcement procedures a higher trajectory of economic growth by avoiding theestablished under the Budget Control Act of 2011 problems associated with a high debt-to-GDP ratio.also will cut spending across a number of programs What Are the Implications for Near-Termincluding defense. Economic Growth?Together the changes in fiscal policy brought about by Unfortunately, an abrupt resolution of the budgetcurrent law will sharply reduce the U.S. government deficit also removes what many see as a short-termbudget deficit—from 7.3 percent of GDP in 2012 to fiscal stimulus to economic activity during a period in4.0 percent and 2.4 percent of GDP in 2013 and 2014, which the economy is already performing poorly. Thatrespectively. To provide a contrast with current law, is, government deficit spending is seen as boostingthe Congressional Budget Office (CBO) developed short-term activity. Removing the stimulus couldan alternative fiscal scenario, in which some current yield a near-term slowdown in economic activity or alaws would be changed so that fiscal policy remains recession.relatively unchanged. The alternative scenario showsa much larger deficit—6.5 percent and 5.6 percent of According to CBO estimates, a continuation of theGDP in 2013 and 2014, respectively. current laws will lead to a mild recession in which U.S. real GDP declines by 0.5 percent from fourth quarterIn contrast, CBO expects both reduced revenues and 2012 to fourth quarter 2013. CBO also estimates thathigher expenditures if the laws are changed to sustain the policies in their alternative scenario will result incurrent policy. The result is a larger deficit—an the U.S. real GDP growing by 1.7 percent from fourthadditional 2.5 percent of U.S. GDP in 2013. quarter 2012 to fourth quarter 2013. Combined, theseWith the smaller deficits found under current law, the estimates indicate that CBO sees the fiscal cliff builtU.S. government’s debt-to-GDP ratio is projected to into current law as resulting in a 2.2 percent reductiondecline gradually. With the larger deficits found under in GDP during 2013.CBO’s alternative fiscal scenario, the U.S. government’s Other economic perspectives suggest that a 2.5debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to rise. percentage point reduction in the U.S. governmentWhat Are the Implications for Long-Term Economic deficit as a share of GDP will yield an estimated GDPGrowth? loss for 2013 that ranges from 0.0 percent to 3.0 percent, Table 2. For instance, application of the RicardianReducing the U.S. government budget deficit by the equivalence theorem suggests no loss in GDP. Inamount expected under current law seems likely to contrast, application of Keynesian multipliers similarpromote long-term economic growth. Under current to those used by Zandi (2008) suggests a GDP loss oflaw, the deficit as a percent of GDP is expected to fall 3.0 percent.1below the growth rate of U.S. real GDP. Economists Estimated GDP Losssee that development as advantageous to long-term Source Estimated GDP Losseconomic growth because the debt-to-GDP ratio will Table 2 CBO 2.2%fall. Keynesian Multipliers 3.0% Ricardian Equivalence 0.0%With a change in laws to permit the continuation of Imperfect Ricardian Equivalence 0.8%current policies, however, the deficit as a percent of Sources: Congressional Budget Office; Author’s estimatesCommerce Real Estate Solutions | comre.com
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