With war looming, it’s time to be prepared. So last week I switched to a fixed-rate mortgage. It means higher monthly payments, but I’m terrified about what will happen to interest rates once financial markets wake up to the implications of skyrocketing budget deficits.
From a fiscal point of view the impending war is a lose-lose proposition. If it goes badly, the resulting mess will be a disaster for the budget. If it goes well, administration officials have made it clear that they will use any bump in the polls to ram through more big tax cuts, which will also be a disaster for the budget. Either way, the tide of red ink will keep on rising.
Last week the Congressional Budget Office marked down its estimates yet again. Just two years ago, you may remember, the C.B.O. was projecting a 10-year surplus of $5.6 trillion. Now it projects a 10-year deficit of $1.8 trillion.
And that’s way too optimistic. The Congressional Budget Office operates under ground rules that force it to wear rose-colored lenses. If you take into account — as the C.B.O. cannot — the effects of likely changes in the alternative minimum tax, include realistic estimates of future spending and allow for the cost of war and reconstruction, it’s clear that the 10-year deficit will be at least $3 trillion.
In fact, the deficit at the end of the Bush administration was $438 billion and even today it’s “only” $1.3 trillion, but now that a Democrat’s in the White House, why worry about deficits at all?
For years, allegedly serious people have been issuing dire warnings about the consequences of large budget deficits — deficits that are overwhelmingly the result of our ongoing economic crisis. In May 2009, Niall Ferguson of Harvard declared that the “tidal wave of debt issuance” would cause U.S. interest rates to soar. In March 2011, Erskine Bowles, the co-chairman of President Obama’s ill-fated deficit commission, warned that unless action was taken on the deficit soon, “the markets will devastate us,” probably within two years. And so on.