The Fiscal Hawks Were Right About Debt and Interest Rates

“While some nations tremble at the thought of high indebtedness, we Americans bask in the warm, comforting glow of $34 trillion in government IOUs. Why worry about a debt crisis when everyone wants to buy U.S. debt?
Those of us who advocate fiscal prudence have been asked that question repeatedly in the past 15 years. We would point to the host of unfunded liabilities looming in our future. They would respond by pointing to the trend of declining interest rates over time. Low rates, they said, meant we should be able to handle interest payments on outstanding debt while growing the economy with smart investments. Indeed, thanks to low interest rates, payments on federal government debt as a share of GDP dropped from more than 3 percent in the early 1990s to 1.5 percent in 2021. Debt seemed cheap and manageable, so why worry?

As the 10-year Treasury rate hit 5 percent this year, with interest payments on the debt rapidly increasing and bondholders’ interest in buying U.S. debt declining, it’s tempting for us fiscal hawks to simply say, “We told you so.” But it’s more productive to understand how we ended up in this quagmire, in hopes of avoiding similar mistakes in the future.”

3 Economic Myths That Need To Die

“Not only do we Americans still produce an enormous economic output, but the U.S. also continues to be a dominant force in manufacturing. A recent paper by the Cato Institute’s Colin Grabow even reports that American manufacturing surpasses the output of Japan, Germany, and South Korea combined. We are the world’s second-largest manufacturing economy and, better yet, we are a global frontrunner in critical sectors such as automotive and aerospace.”

“government spending is not inherently efficient or effective. It often leads to a misallocation of resources, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and unintended consequences that exacerbate the problems government aims to solve. And when government fails, its mistakes are hard to correct. It’s a sharp contrast with the dynamic and adaptive nature of free markets. The collective decisions of millions of individuals freely spending and investing their own money are incredibly effective at allocating resources, responding to consumer needs and driving innovation. And when the market fails, people with their own money on the line don’t hesitate to change course.”

State Governments Promised Private Companies More than $10 Billion in Subsidies Last Year

“Governments often make deals with private companies, offering generous subsidies to encourage development in their respective states. The year 2023 was unfortunately no exception.
According to a new report from Good Jobs First, a watchdog group that tracks economic development deals, 16 states promised more than $10 billion to private companies last year. The group counted 23 “megadeals,” which it defines as any agreement involving at least $50 million in subsidies to a private company.”

Georgia Taxpayers Lose $160,000 for Every Job Created by Film Tax Credits

“A new audit of Georgia’s Film Tax Credit program found that the state “loses money” on the program. A lot of money, actually: about $160,000 for every job the program creates. Georgia is now spending about $1.3 billion annually on the program, but it generates a return on investment of just 19 cents per dollar, the auditors conclude.”

“There’s no doubt that Georgia’s program has influenced where movie and TV production takes place. The new audit concludes that the program has induced “substantial economic activity in Georgia,” but that’s simply evidence of the fact that lighting a lot of money on fire will eventually produce some heat. The underlying numbers suggest that Georgia’s subsidies are doing a poor job of generating economic growth or creating jobs.”

Southern Border Showdown

“Abbott..signed another bill into law…Senate Bill 3 devotes $1.54 billion in taxpayer funds to the continued construction of the border wall—which comes in addition to the $1.5 billion worth of contracts the state has already devoted to building about 40 miles of wall in the last two years—and shells out some $40 million in funds for state troopers to patrol hotspots where illegal immigrants are likely to be.”

The US debt mountain is growing so fast the government could soon be spending more on interest payments than on defense

The US’s mountain of debt has become a cause of concern for investors this year.

The government is likely to spend more on interest payments than on defense over the next five years, per Capital Group.

The ballooning debt burden could eventually chip away at the demand for Treasury bonds, according to the investment manager.”

Ford E.V. Battery Plant in Michigan Named Worst Economic Development Deal of 2023

“Each year since 2018, the Center for Economic Accountability (CEA)—a nonpartisan think tank opposed to corporate welfare—has named its Worst Economic Development Deal of the Year, a dishonor awarded to the most egregious misuse of taxpayer funds nominally intended to spur economic growth.
This year, the ignoble honor goes to Michigan, which has awarded over $1.75 billion to Ford Motor Co. and Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd. (CATL), a Chinese battery manufacturer. The two companies are jointly developing a factory in Marshall, Michigan, that would build lithium iron phosphate batteries for the automaker’s electric vehicle (E.V.) lineup.”

“facing strong economic headwinds, Ford announced it was “re-timing and resizing some investments.” While the Michigan plant was originally intended to create 2,500 jobs, Ford changed its pledge to 1,700 jobs and lowered its potential output by 40 percent, estimated to shrink the company’s financial investment by $1 billion or more.

Since Ford originally pledged $3.5 billion, Michigan’s contribution to the project could be nearly as much as what Ford plans to spend on its own factory. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, told reporters that Michigan’s investment may be “resized” as well, and “as Ford has had to make some changes…the state’s role will change as well.”

Of course, the deal’s merits were questionable from the start. When the project was first announced, Whitmer’s office claimed it would have “an employment multiplier of 4.38, which means that an additional 4.38 jobs in Michigan’s economy are anticipated to be created for every new direct job.”

This is a fanciful notion. Tim Bartik of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research has estimated that a more typical multiplier on a local or state level is between 1.5 and 2. Last month, Bartik calculated the estimated benefits of Michigan’s proposed investment; while he was broadly positive, he noted that a 4.38 multiplier was “very high,” and “if the Ford project had a more typical multiplier—2.5 rather than 4.38—the project’s gross benefits would be less than the incentive costs.””

Congress Spent $7.5 Billion on E.V. Chargers. After 2 Years, None Are Built.

“”The slow rollout…primarily boils down to the difficulties state agencies and charging companies face in meeting a complex set of contracting requirements and minimum operating standards for the federally-funded chargers, according to interviews with state and EV industry officials,” the article notes.
Even with federal funds, part of the problem may also be cost, because the chargers are quite expensive to build and maintain. The types of chargers mentioned in the law are either Level 2 or Level 3, also known as Direct Current Fast Charging (DCFC). Level 2 chargers use alternating current electricity and take between four and 10 hours to charge an E.V., while DCFCs use direct current and can charge an E.V. in less than an hour.

Any long-term solution would prioritize DCFCs—no road-tripper will want to wait all day for their car to charge when fueling up a gas burner takes minutes. But DCFCs are considerably more expensive to install: A 2019 study by the Department of Energy found that while Level 2 chargers can cost up to $6,500 to install, DCFCs can cost as much as $40,000. Depending on factors like hardware costs, other estimates have put the price between $50,000 and $100,000.”

” Ultimately, consumer choices will dictate the future of electric vehicles; if people don’t buy them at their current price and with the current technology, then companies will either innovate or come up with something better. By merely subsidizing the current thing, the Biden administration is upholding the status quo and disincentivizing other innovations that could revolutionize the industry and make environmentally-friendly vehicles truly competitive with their gas-burning counterparts.”

NYPD Will Spend Nearly $400 Million to Hide its Radio Communications

“The move is part of a growing trend. Over the last decade, other large police departments in Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Portland have all encrypted their radio communications or are planning to do so. Departments say broadcasting in the clear gives criminals advance warning. Beltran said encryption would also protect the information of crime victims and block pranksters who jam up NYPD frequencies. (The NYPD regularly leaks information on arrestees and even victims for political purposes.)
However, scanner enthusiasts, news organizations, and elected officials complain that encrypted radio is cutting off a longstanding and useful source of information on police activity.”

The U.S. Needs a Fiscal Commission Because Congress Won’t Do Its Job

“In the last 50 years, when the budget process has been in place, Congress has managed only four times to pass a budget on time and through the regular process. Seventeen times, members of Congress haven’t bothered to pass a budget at all. That hasn’t stopped them from spending money they didn’t have, or from making promises to voters they wouldn’t be able to fulfill. I doubt I need to remind you that it’s gotten worse. In the last half-decade, Congress added $5 trillion to the already elevated and growing federal debt with no plan for repayment.
Nor should I need to remind this column’s readers that government interest payments are growing quickly, propelled by higher interest rates applied to an expanding debt level. That’s the result of years of excuses that interest rates would remain historically low.

While you might see how legislators chose to believe that inflation and high interest rates were things of the past, there’s no excuse for ignoring the upcoming insolvency of programs like Medicare and Social Security. This looming calamity has been warned of for decades in government reports and scholarly publications.”

“At the heart of the commission’s charge must be a commitment not just to reduce some deficits but to put the government back on a sustainable track. As my colleague and former CBO Director Keith Hall convinced me, the commission will fail if it doesn’t have a clear target from the start.”