Trend: The budget deficits caused by government overspending are growing larger and more damaging to the US economy, with no solution in sight.
John Mauldin first wrote about the Muddle Through Economy in 2002. In 2007 he wrote that we would indeed get back to a Muddle Through Economy after the end of the coming recession. Last week he expressed concern that the US is taking actions that could indeed "Kill the Goose" of our free-market economy. Now he is questioning how we can muddle through in the face of $1.5 trillion and larger deficits. Excerpts below.
I am not surprised about the response of the Fed to the current recession and credit crisis, whether it's the large monetization of debt or the low interest rates. Assuming they more or less remove the monetary easing in a reasonable manner, there is nothing that would make me think we do not eventually recover, albeit at a very slow Muddle Through pace, with a jobless recovery that lasts for several years. It will not be pleasant, but we'll survive.
However, never in my wildest dreams did I think we could be looking at government deficits of $1.5 trillion dollars and actually budgeting future deficits of over $1 trillion as far as the eye can see. And there is real reason to think that under current plans, $1 trillion deficits are optimistic. Look at the graph above from the Heritage Foundation. They suggest that current policy would bring us closer to a $2 trillion deficit by 2019.
And that assumes nominal growth that is north of 3% and unemployment dropping back below 5% in reasonably short order. If you make less optimistic assumptions, the number can become much larger rather quickly. Where do we find that much money to finance that large a deficit?
Given that the current Congress is hell bent on massively raising taxes in 2011, we are likely to dip back into recession by then, if not before. Remember, taxes have a multiplier effect of three. That means tax cuts increase GDP (over time) by three times their amount. But tax increases reduce GDP by three times the increase. That will make deficits worse, and unemployment will again start to rise from already high levels. Twenty states have already raised sales taxes, and more are raising other taxes. It is a vicious spiral.
This is not a prescription for a return to normal growth. We are headed for a New Normal that is less than what the market currently believes. Unless the deficit comes under control at some point, we face the real prospect of catching Japanese Disease and suffering yet another lost decade. Can we Muddle Through? We have no choice but to do so. But it will not be fun. It will not be long-term 2% growth and employment going back to 6% any time soon. Can we reverse the course? With a different attitude and leadership in Congress, maybe we can. But it won't happen next year, and it's unlikely in 2011.
I am not expecting that we will see the crisis I am thinking of any time soon. We can move along with positive GDP for some time. I am thinking of the longer term, 1-3 years out. We will become complacent. I will get letters telling me I am too pessimistic. Just as I did in late 2006 when I said we would be in a recession by late 2007. But I firmly believe we will see a double-dip recession within another 18 months (at the most). Stock markets drop on average about 40% in a recession. Adjust your portfolios accordingly.