Policy Note 2006/3 | April 2006

Twin Deficits and Sustainability

In the mid-to-late 1980s, the American economy simultaneously produced—for the first time in the postwar period—huge federal budget deficits as well as large current account deficits, together known as the “twin deficits”. This generated much debate and hand-wringing, most of which focused on supposed “crowding-out” effects. Many claimed that the budgetdeficit was soaking up private saving, leaving too little for domestic investment, and that the “twin” current account deficit was soaking up foreign saving. The result would be higher interest rates and thus lower economic growth, as domestic spending—especially on business investment and real estate construction—was depressed. Further, the government debt and foreign debt would burden future generations of Americans, who would have to make interest payments and eventually retire the debt. The promulgated solution was to promote domestic saving by cutting federal government spending, and private consumption. Many pointed to Japan’s high personal saving rates as a model of the proper way to run an economy.

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