Krugman considers Baker (with graphs)
Paul Krugman has a column on Dean Baker’s post David Brooks is projecting his self indulgence again. It includes a couple of interesting graphs. Note that Krugman excludes from consideration financial debt.
Below are two series, both expressed as percentages of GDP: total domestic nonfinancial debt (public plus private), and U.S. net foreign debt, as measured by the negative of the net international investment position:
What you can see here is that there has been a big rise in debt, with a much smaller move into net debtor status for America as a whole; for the most part, the extra debt is money we owe to ourselves.
And here are the same numbers, measured as changes from 1980, so that you can see that the great bulk of the rise in debt was not financed by foreign borrowing.
People think of debt’s role in the economy as if it were the same as what debt means for an individual: there’s a lot of money you have to pay to someone else. But that’s all wrong; the debt we create is basically money we owe to ourselves, and the burden it imposes does not involve a real transfer of resources.
That’s not to say that high debt can’t cause problems — it certainly can. But these are problems of distribution and incentives, not the burden of debt as is commonly understood. And as Dean says, talking about leaving a burden to our children is especially nonsensical; what we are leaving behind is promises that some of our children will pay money to other children, which is a very different kettle of fish.