Tag Archives: Gross domestic product

UPDATE: Europe is paying for its past excesses: European interest payments as % of GDP.

With news out today of a weak German bond auction and troubles with the Dexia bailout, I thought it time to update my table of European interest payments as % of GDP. But first, the news:

  • Germany auctioned 6 billion euros of 10-year government bonds, but attracted just 3.889 billion euros of bids, a bid-to-cover ratio of just 0.65. Six of the last eight bond auctions have seen bids below supply. In these cases, the Bundesbank has bought the remaining debt. German yields are rising as a result. Germany’s 2-year yield is up 0.06% to 0.44% and 10-year yield is up 0.13% to 2.12%.
  • Belgian yields are soaring to new highs on reports that the bailout of Dexia was failing. Belgium’s two-year yield rose 0.69% to 4.98% and 10-year yield increased 0.40% to 5.47%. In France, also a partner to the Dexia bailout, the 2-year yield rose 0.14% to 1.86% and the 10-year yield jumped 0.15% to 3.68%.
  • No news other than the above is pushing up rates across most of Europe. Greece’s 1-year yield skyrocketed 38.6% to 306.7%. The 2-year rate jumped 4.6% to 117.9% and the 10-year year yield rose 0.18% to 29.04%. All are record highs. Over in Italy, 2-year yields rose 0.17% to 7.15% and 10-year yields increased 0.15% to 6.97%.

So now, let’s see an updated table of where Europe stands in its ability to pay the interest on its debts.


2-year interest rate


Interest payment %age of GDP

Change in Interest payment









































Great Britain





United States





As you can see on the above table, only Portugal had a significant decrease in interest payments going forward. In contrast, Greece, Ireland, Belgium, Spain, and France all say significant increases. Whereas previously, only four countries had interest going forward exceeding 3 percent of GDP, six nations now face that situation.

Clearly, as anybody watching the stock market decline here knows, the European debt crisis is getting worse and the European leaders have yet to find a solution. Unfortunately, with the budget mess in Washington and debt-to-GDP ratio of about 100%, higher than most of those “risky” European nations, the United States will soon be facing the same problem.

Europe is paying for its past excesses: European interest payments as % of GDP.

With interest rates rising in Europe and heavy debt-to-GDP ratios, I decided to look at how much interest each European country must pay going forward as a percentage of its economic output. I threw in the United States for fun. (Table sorted by interest payment %age of GDP.)


2-year interest rate


Interest payment %age of GDP





























Great Britain








United States




Now, these debt figures account only for federal government spending. Many countries, most notably the United States, also has state, provincial, and local governments with their own debts. Additionally, many of the debt-to-GDP estimates are from 2010. Thus, most of the above countries have debt-to-GDP ratios and interest expenses even worse than calculated above.

Clearly, we can see why Greece is in trouble. If it were to refinance its debt at market rates (it has been refinancing through Euro-zone subsidized loans), its interest payments would exceed its GDP by a half.

Italy is also paying for its problems. So far, Italy has received no help from any bailout fund and, as of now, will have to refinance its debt at market rates. As such, it will cost Italy 8.5% of its GDP to do so. If it had a more reasonable debt level and interest rates, say those of France, Italy would have an additional 7.4% of GDP to spend or save.

Most surprising is how everybody is ignoring Portugal. Portugal has already received bailout funds, but that won’t last forever. If Portugal were to return to normal by accessing the market, interest payments would eat up 15.3% of its GDP. That’s a lot to pay for past mistakes.

Belgium is another sleeper. It’s problems are just as bad as Spain’s, yet nobody is talking about them. Furthermore, Belgium has not been able to form a ruling coalition since elections were last held on June 13, 2010, breaking all records. Furthermore, the New Flemish Alliance party is Belgium’s largest political party with 17% of the vote. This party favors the “peaceful and gradual secession of Flanders from Belgium.” Lots of problems there, but nobody seems to be talking about it.

So far, Europe has paid for the mistakes of Greece, Portugal, and Ireland. However, Italy’s debt is 2.7 times the combined debt of those three nations that are already receiving bailout funds. That makes Italy both too big to fail and too big to bail out.

Europe is facing problems on multiple fronts: Greece, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Belgium, and Spain, to name a few. So far, Europe has successfully staved off depression by bailing out the smaller, weaker countries. But as the problem spreads to more countries, and bigger ones at that, Europe is running out of room and options.

– Michael E. Newton is the author of the highly acclaimed The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny. His newest book, Angry Mobs and Founding Fathers: The Fight for Control of the American Revolution, was released by Eleftheria Publishing in July.

Repeating history: The future of Greece, Europe, and the United States.

I’m rereading The Path to Tyranny to prepare it for a second printing and came across this section about Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s (before the Nazis took over) very relevant for today:

The country’s economic problems worsened and the government approached bankruptcy. To reduce the budget deficit, the government raised unemployment insurance premiums, increased duties on wheat and barley, reduced pension and unemployment benefits, and cut the salaries of civil servants. The Social Democratic Party’s popularity declined even more when these measures pushed up unemployment even further and weakened the already fragile banking system. The government was trapped in a no-win situation. It cut back on spending to avoid bankruptcy, but this increased hardship on the people and reduced the government’s popularity. On the other hand, the government could have continued providing welfare to the people, but this would likely have forced Germany to default on its debt, which would have resulted in massive inflation and a flight of capital out of the country. The German government’s large deficits, which were the result of the economic depression combined with Germany’s already semi-socialist economy, forced Germany to decide between two equally bad choices. The resulting economic and political crisis was inevitable, regardless of what the government chose to do.

Are we in the same no-win situation today? If governments cut back on spending, this reverse-stimulus will hurt the economy and the removal of economic support will certainly increase the pain for many poor people. However, if the government continues with its deficit spending, bankruptcy will eventually occur, first in Greece which already has debt to GDP of 173%, but eventually in most if not all Western countries.

Taxes paid keeps rising, despite the media’s claims to the opposite

Headline: “Tax bills in 2009 at lowest level since 1950

The reality according to the very same article:

“Federal, state and local income taxes consumed 9.2% of all personal income in 2009, the lowest rate since 1950, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports. That rate is far below the historic average of 12% for the last half-century. The overall tax burden hit bottom in December at 8.8.% of income before rising slightly in the first three months of 2010.”

Notice that this is only talking about income taxes. As if income taxes are the only means of collecting taxes. In fact, look at what has been happening in Arizona. The legislature has been dropping income tax rates here, but at the same time they and the people through ballot initiatives have been raising the sales tax rate. Looking at only income taxes is looking at about a third of the total.

I decided to collect the data from http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/ and http://www.usgovernmentrevenue.com and create some simple charts.

Yes, taxes paid have declined recently and hit their lowest level as a percentage of GDP since 1959 (not 1950). However, as you can see, tax revenue is 2010 was back up to the same level as 1971 and 2011’s are expected to be the same as 1973’s. In fact, 2011’s tax revenue is expected to be just a point less than that of 2003’s. Big deal! Yet, look at that outstanding increase in taxes between 1910 and 2000.

But that only tells part of the story. As government’s share of GDP grows, the shrinking private sector has to pay for all that new government. So let’s look at taxes as a percentage of the private economy:

The decline in taxes is now much less pronounced. Taxes paid as a percentage of the private economy hovers around 50%. Looking at taxes against the private is much better because it is the private economy tax actually produces. Let’s look at it another way. If taxes were 60% of GDP but 100% of GDP, everybody in the private economy would stop working and government would get no revenue and would be forced to close down. So the private economy is the determining factor in tax revenues, not the total economy.

So the average person working in the private sector as an employer or employees pays, on average, a tax rate of 50%. This includes income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, vehicle registration taxes, social security and Medicare taxes, corporate taxes, capital gains taxes, etc. FIFTY PERCENT!

And people have the nerve to complain that tax rates and tax revenues are falling.

Taxes need to fall much further. A decline to the 100-year average of 25% of GDP and 36% of private sector GDP would be a good start. In other words, to return to the average would mean a tax cut of $750 billion to $1300 billion. But with huge deficits, spending would have to decline by two to three trillion. But given the immense growth in government over the last 100 years, spending cuts like that would simply return us to the 100-year average.

Remember, USA today compared 2009 income tax revenue to the 50-year average. I am simply following their lead, but looking at all taxes and looking at a 100-year average.

Obama’s State of the Union: $400 billion of what?

In the State of the Union, President Obama pledged to cut the “deficit by more than $400 billion.” Well, just how much money is that?

First of all, that’s a $400 billion cut over the next decade. In other words, he wants to cut $40 billion per year.

Let’s put that in perspective:

  • $40 billion is about 3% of the current deficit.
  • $40 billion is about 1% of current federal government spending.
  • $40 billion is about 0.3% of our GDP.

Basically, $40 billion is a rounding error. Obviously, I’m very skeptical by calls for small spending cuts when, at the same time, the President also said he plans to increase spending… I mean investments… in other areas.

Doctor Evil’s solution to the sovereign debt crisis

There are three stories out this morning regarding the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.

First off is Ireland:

Ireland is likely to end up tapping a loan worth “tens of billions” of euros as a result of talks between the government and officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the head of Ireland’s central bank said Thursday.

The talks aren’t about a bailout, but will lead to a loan to Ireland that the government would have to accept, Central Bank of Ireland Governor Patrick Honohan said in an interview, according to Irish state broadcaster RTE.

The yield on the 10-year Irish government bond fell to around 8% this morning from 8.3% Wednesday, strategists said. European equity markets rallied, with the Irish ISEQ stock index gaining 1.4%.

I don’t see how this changes anything. It may stave off immediate default, but Ireland is simply borrowing more money, exactly what got it into this mess in the first place. This simply buys them time to get their house in order, but will they?

Now, over to Spain:

Spain sold 3.654 billion euros ($4.943 billion) in 10- and 30-year bonds, but was forced to pay higher yields than two months ago as worries about fiscal problems on the periphery of the euro zone push up borrowing costs. The Spanish Treasury offered 3 billion to 4 billion euros of 10- and 30-year bonds. The government paid an average yield of 4.615% on the 10-year bond, up from 4.144% at a September auction, Dow Jones Newswires reported. The 30-year bond auction produced an average yield of 5.488% versus 5.077% in September. The 10-year auction produced a bid-to-cover ratio of 1.84, versus 2.32 in September, the report said.

The market is relieved that Spain was able to sell its bonds. Again, great news that Spain was not forced to default, but it doesn’t change Spain’s fiscal situation. In fact, one can argue that by lending to Spain is simply enabling one is enabling their addiction.

And over to Greece:

The Greek government on Thursday submitted to parliament a budget plan that it said would allow to stick to its target of reducing its deficit to 7.4% of gross domestic product in 2011 despite a sharp upward revision to its 2009 and 2010 deficit levels. The European Union statistics agency Eurostat earlier this week upwardly revised Greece’s 2009 deficit by nearly two full percentage points to 15.4% of GDP. The government raised its estimate of the 2010 deficit to 9.4% of GDP. The finance ministry said it would further cut spending and boost revenues to meet the 2011 deficit target, taking measures that include a rise in the lower value-added tax rate to 13% from 11%, a levy on highly-profitable firms, cuts in government operating expenditures and a nominal pension freeze.

Greece was forced to take more austerity measures because the economy did worse than expected. I am not surprised by this because the austerity itself hurts the economy, like a medicine that tastes bad but is required to kill an infection. I expect more such bad news over the following years. Government forecasts of narrowing deficits in Europe’s at-risk countries and here too in the United State rely on solid economic growth over the next three to four years. Yet, this optimistic economic outlook will only reduce their deficits, or so they hope, to about 3 percent of GDP. Why aren’t they trying to eliminate their deficits entirely? Why are they relying on optimistic economic growth rates? Has government never heard of “expect the worst, hope for the best?” Instead, they hope for the best and trap themselves in a corner if that does not occur.

All this reminds me of a scene from Austin Powers. Doctor Evil finally captures his nemesis Austin Powers:

Dr. Evil: Scott, I want you to meet daddy’s nemesis, Austin Powers.

Scott Evil: What? Are you feeding him? Why don’t you just kill him?

Dr. Evil: I have an even better idea. I’m going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.

Later in the scene:

Dr. Evil: Come, let’s return to dinner. Close the tank.

Scott Evil: Aren’t you going to watch them? They’ll get away!

Dr.Evil: No, we’ll leave them alone and not actually witness them dying, and we’ll just assume it all went to plan.

Scott Evil: I have a gun in my room. Give me five seconds, I’ll come back and blow their brains out.

Dr.Evil: No Scott. You just don’t get it, do you?

These bailouts, loans, and austerity measures in Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland are “an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death.” Instead of eliminating the deficit immediately, they have convoluted plans to reduce it over a five-year period. Will these plans work? Nobody knows. But that’s okay because “we’ll just assume it all went to plan.”

Our governmental leaders may not be evil like Dr. Evil, but they certainly are as naive in assuming their plans will work. And they think we are too naive to notice their plans’ inadequacies.

Irish bonds fall, CDS and insurance rates hit new highs. Spain’s economy suffering. Sovereign debt crisis continues.

A couple of news stories in the ongoing sovereign debt crisis.

Bad news for Ireland:

The cost of insuring Irish debt against default hit a fresh record Friday with investors fearing that Ireland’s draconian budget cuts will slow economic growth and further weaken public finances.

Spreads on Irish five-year sovereign credit default swaps topped 6.10 percentage points Friday, according to data provider Markit, after having briefly touched 600 basis points Thursday.

This means that investors will have to pay EUR610,000 annually to ensure EUR10 million Irish debt against default. Some market watchers note that CDS trading starts to dry up at these levels as investors worry about being caught on the wrong side of the trade.

CDS are tradable, over-the-counter derivatives that function like an insurance contract for defaulting on debt. If a borrower defaults, the protection buyer is paid compensation by the protection seller.

The Irish 10-year yield spread over German bunds, which show how large a premium investors demand to hold Irish bonds versus more-stable German debt, also hit a record of 5.31 percentage points Friday.

Bad news for Spain:

The Bank of Spain on Friday said it estimates third-quarter gross domestic product in the country was unchanged from the prior quarter. That follows a gain of 0.2% in the second and 0.1% in the first quarter. In a monthly economic bulletin, the Bank of Spain said the economy likely grew 0.2% on an annual basis in the third quarter. Official third-quarter GDP data will be released by the National Statistics Institute on Nov. 11. The Bank of Spain said growth was likely stymied by government austerity measures and the effects of consumers tightening spending as value-added taxes went up from July 1.

Today, the Dollar is up as traders sell Euros. Even with the Dollar up (which usually hurts commodity prices), gold and the other precious metals are rallying to record highs. Traders are looking for safety as the chances of an Irish default increase. Furthermore, we are seeing in Spain that “austerity” is a bitter but necessary medicine.

After years of liberal government spending and big deficits, Ireland and Spain (along with Greece and Portugal) are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Unfortunately, the United States is not that far behind them.

Congressman Warns ‘We’re Greece’ in a Few Years

Part 10 on the sovereign debt crisis. CNBC reports:

If the US government doesn’t act soon to reduce the deficit and debt, it will become like Greece in a few years, Sen. Judd Gregg, (R-N.H.), told CNBC Wednesday.

“This nation is on a course where if we don’t do something about it, get federal situation, the fiscal policy [under control], we’re Greece. We’re a banana republic,” said Gregg.

“Our status as a nation is threatened by what we’ve got coming at us in the area of deficit and debt. And it’s only a few more years, at the most, that we have to work with here before the market says, ‘Sorry, your currency is something we can not continue to defend.’ ”

“You’ve gone from 20 percent of GDP to 24 percent of GDP headed toward 28 percent of GDP. That has to be brought under control or basically we’re going to bankrupt the country.”

The sovereign debt crisis is not just a European problem. The US is deep in debt and many US states are on the verge of default and have already resorted to issuing IOUs. Remember, this crisis began in Greece. It then spread to Spain and Portugal. Now Ireland is even worse than Greece was before the EU bailed them out. We should not assume that the crisis will magically end today for no apparent reason. This crisis will get worse until the infected countries, which is most of them, solves the problem. The sovereign debt crisis will remain as long as economic growth remains slow, debt remains high, deficits remain large, and government remains larger than it ought to. In other words, this sovereign debt crisis will be with us for a while.

Sovereign debt crisis spreading to first world countries.

I’ve written about the sovereign debt crisis numerous times already. See here, here, here, here, and here. But so far, I’ve only written about those “at-risk” countries such as Portugal, Greece, Spain, and Ireland or individual states such as Illinois. In other words, the sovereign debt crisis has so far been limited to “small” countries or states. Debt defaults among these countries or states certainly would cause problems and a sharp decline in financial markets, but likely wouldn’t break the bank. But if this crisis spreads to larger, more financially important countries, it would obviously have a much larger impact, possibly one similar to the stock market crash of 1929.

Marketwatch reports that the sovereign debt crisis may in fact be spreading to a first world nation:

There’s no ‘B’ in PIIGS, but Belgium could eventually cause headaches of its own for the euro zone if a bitter and protracted political fight prevents the country from hitting its deficit-reduction targets.

Belgium, in northern Europe, has seemed an unlikely candidate for sovereign-debt troublemaker. From a fiscal perspective, the country, whose capital Brussels is the home of the vast EU bureaucracy, has been associated more with the so-called core of the euro zone than the troubled “periphery.”

But an increasingly bitter political divide along linguistic lines has left Belgium without a government since April and is beginning to raise some concerns.

Belgium, which has enjoyed solid growth, appears on track to reduce its budget deficit to 4.8% of gross domestic product this year from 5.6% in 2009, economists said. The nation’s deficit is among the lowest in the euro zone and compares well with other core countries, including Germany at 4.5% of GDP, France at 8% and the Netherlands at 6%.

But if a government isn’t formed soon, the 2011 fiscal target of a reduction to 4.1% could be in jeopardy, said Philippe Ledent, an economist at ING Bank in Brussels. That in turn would make it all the more difficult for Belgium to meet its target of bringing its deficit down to 3% of GDP, the EU limit, in 2012.

In reality, a 4.1%, 4.8%, or 5.6% don’t seem too bad, especially considering the 10.6% deficit here in the US for 2010 and 8.3% deficit expected for 2011.

Belgium’s deficit figures raise few alarms, but government debt stands at around 100% of GDP, which compares more closely with Greece and Italy.

U.S. debt, by comparison, also stands at about 100% of GDP.

The financial markets are starting to notice Belgium’s problem:

Belgium has had no problems selling its government bonds. Borrowing costs have risen, however, with the yield premium demanded by investors to hold 10-year Belgian debt over benchmark German bunds standing at around 0.8 percentage point, up from around 0.4 percentage point around the same time last year.

But borrowing costs are far from problematic, Ledent said. Belgium’s premium remains nowhere near comparable to Spain’s, for example, which is at around 1.6 percentage points, much less Ireland’s at around 4 percentage points.

The cost of insuring Belgian debt against default is up sharply since the April elections, but well off the peak seen in mid-June. The spread on five-year sovereign credit-default swaps was at 119 basis points last Thursday, according to data provider CMA. That means it would cost $119,000 a year to insure $10 million of Belgian government debt against default for five years.

The spread stood at around 60 basis points in mid-April before the latest round of political turmoil and peaked at 149 basis points in late June.

“Up to now, there has been no strong impact [on borrowing costs], but I’m not sure it will continue like that,” Ledent said. “If in two, three, four months we still don’t have any government, financial markets will consider that we won’t reach the [budget] target and then there could be an impact on the spread.”

How long can countries like Belgium or the United States continue to borrow at low interest rates? These are countries with deficits exceeding 4% of GDP, in Belgium’s case, or 8-10%, in the United States, with debts equal to 100% of GDP. Logic tells us that in these countries, either taxes have to rise significantly or government spending has to fall sharply. Neither Belgium nor the U.S. is doing much to reduce their deficits and even less to cut government spending. Both countries, along with all other nations, are hoping for and relying on an economic recovery to lift their finances. What if we enter another recession? What if the recovery is slower than they expect, as it has been so far? All this talk of deficit reduction will be gone and we’ll be looking at even larger deficits and debt levels.

Worse yet, what happens when investors demand higher interest rates? As mentioned above, Belgium is already paying an extra 0.4% interest on its debt. That does not sound like much, but with government debt at 100% of GDP, the deficit increases by 0.4% just from the interest payment. This is an additional cost on government at a time when it needs to reduce its costs. It increases the deficit just as the country is trying to reduce it. Furthermore, this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: worries of a debt crisis will cause a country’s interest payment to rise and deficit to increase, thus increasing the chances of a crisis.

So I will repeat what I’ve written many times: The sovereign debt crisis is far from over. In fact, it is just beginning.

Should we return to the Clinton years? Hell yes!

I often hear from those on the left about how much better the Clinton years were than the Bush years and today. Well, let’s compare the size of government during the Clinton years (1993-2000) to the Bush years and today.

First, my favorite chart again to get a general idea of where we are now versus the Clinton years. Clearly, government spending is much higher now:

Total government spending (federal, state, and local) during the Clinton years averaged 34.3% of GDP. During the Bush years, it averaged 35.0%. During the fiscal year just completed (2010) it was 43.9%. Are those on the left really arguing for a 9.6 percentage point reduction in government spending? And what 21.9% (9.6 divided by 43.9) of government will the cut?

Let’s look at the tax side of the equation. Total government revenue (federal, state, and local) averaged 35.2% of GDP during the Clinton years. It was 34.4% during the Bush years. Today (FY 2010), due to the recession, it stands at 30.4%.

What is remarkable is the similarity between the Clinton years and the Bush years, on average. The Bush years saw total government spending 0.7 percentage points higher than during the Clinton years, but total government revenue 0.8 percentage points lower. However, not all this credit and/or blame can be assigned to these Presidents or even to the Congresses because these figures include state and local government, as well. On the balance though, these periods were remarkably similar.

Another interesting factor is that government spending fell 4.5 percentage points during the Clinton years, yet rose 4.4 percentage during the Bush years. Government revenue saw the reverse, up 3.9 percentage points under Clinton but down 4.2 percentage points under Bush. Much of this is simply the result of economic cycles. Clinton started after a recession and ended with a bubble. Bush started with that bubble and ended with a recession.

But the most notable thing is what is occurring today. Under President Obama, government spending as a percentage of GDP has risen 6.9 points while revenue has fallen 2.6 point. Again, President Obama and Congress cannot take all the credit/blame because most of this change has been due to the recession. However, government spending has risen more under Barack Obama in just two years than it did under Bush in eight. In fact, government spending as a percentage of GDP in 2009 alone rose more than it had in the previous 36 years. During the previous recession (2000-2003), total government spending rose 2.7 percentage points and we recovered from that recession just fine. In this recession (2007-2010 so far), government spending as a percentage of GDP has risen 8.9 points and the recession continues.

All this raises a few questions:

  • What have we to show for this 8.9 percentage point increase in the size of government?
  • Do the liberals really want to return to the Clinton day? Are the liberals willing to reduce government spending by 21.9% (9.6% of GDP)?
  • Will conservatives trade a tax increase equal to 4.8% of GDP in exchange for cuts to government equal to 9.6%?

As for me, I’d gladly trade the tax increase for smaller government because we are already paying for the tax increase. To fund our budget deficit, government is issuing debt and printing money. Instead of charging us taxes, they are devaluing the Dollar. Instead of paying for our large government through taxation, we are paying for it with reduced value of our wealth and increasing foreign ownership of our country. Therefore, taxes are much less important than government spending. So yes, I’d certainly support an increase in taxes equivalent to 4.8% of GDP IF AND ONLY IF we reduce government spending by 9.6%, returning us to those much hallowed days of the Clinton Presidency and Contract With America Congress.

* This does not reflect my opinion of Clinton as a person or his policies. Likewise, much of the above talk of “Clinton years” was the result of general economic trends and the Republican Congress. As always, I am a firm believer that history moves in trends and our leaders reflect those trends. (See my book, The Path to Tyranny. Additionally, I plan to write an entire book on this subject in the future.)