If you want to look for a date by which our economy is going to really start feeling the pain, look to 2014, when mandatory entitlement spending for Baby Boomers really starts kicking in. Steven Wieting writes for Citigroup:
The demands of fiscal promises made to the baby boom won’t simply go away. Instead, away from cyclical forces likely to improve near-term budget deficits, mandatory spending in entitlement programs in excess of revenue growth merely begins in calendar 2014 (see Figure 6).
No mainstream U.S. presidential candidate has offered specific proposals to eliminate the funding gap in U.S. entitlement programs that build continuously in the calendar years of 2014 and beyond. If for some significant portion of that period, both low interest rates and high deficits persist, then what can the U.S. expect?
It is much more difficult to measure the effects of “business left undone,” rather than obvious impact, like the brief surge in U.S. solvency concern. But in a “cold,” crisis, rather than a conflagration, one should expect trend weakening in U.S. investment, productivity and wages if unusually large savings flows are directed at federal deficits, leaving less savings for productive private investment, all else constant.
Yes, with both a strong government credit profile, and private investment opportunities, the U.S. could be able to import foreign savings, in our view, running
a current account deficit of greater magnitude perhaps than current readings, near 3% of U.S. GDP. However, the degree to which foreign savings failed to be invested productively during the 2000s housing boom provides a warning. More importantly, the long duration of worsening in the case of healthcare and retirement entitlements suggest a build up of liabilities to the external sector of unprecedented magnitude.
Deficit spending — away from short-term stabilizing effects — has the negative long-term impact of compounding. By the Congressional Budget Offices estimates, the federal interest share of U.S. GDP would rise from 1.4% in 2011 to 7.2% by 2030 and 15.8% in 2050 in a scenario in which current policy is followed, and government healthcare costs rise at a somewhat slower pace. This leaves even the effectiveness of government weakened. But the impact on private investment, productivity growth and wages would be more pronounced.
Under assumptions in which there are no offsets for reduced flows of savings into private capital formation, we estimate each 1 percentage point of the primary (noninterest) U.S. budget deficit per GDP would reduce productivity growth by about 0.2 percentage points. This provides an equivalent drag on potential GDP growth and an estimate of the trend real interest rate.