How Big A Problem Is The National Debt?

March 9, 1999

A number of respected economists contend the national debt is not a problem now -- if it ever was. They say the actual amount of the debt is less important than our ability to service it.

What is certain is that the debt, in proportion to the nation's gross domestic product, is falling fast.

  • The latest Congressional Budget Office calculations show debt as a share of the U.S. economy rapidly heading toward its post World War II low -- which was 23.9 percent of GDP in 1974.
  • The decline has even picked up speed from last year.
  • Even at recent heights -- when the debt's relation to the economy reached 50.2 percent -- the U.S. had no problem servicing it.
  • Economists contend that while the debt is not now a burden, retiring it -- by paying off federal bondholders as their bonds come due -- would be a better use of the budget surplus than embarking on new spending programs.

One way to shrink the debt over time is to increase economic growth. And the path to that, experts argue, is to cut taxes.

Source: Editorial, "Debt Delusion," Wall Street Journal, March 9, 1999.

 

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