Monday, December 27, 2010

Cooking the Books: The 2010 Deficit Was $2.1 Trillion

By Bruce Bartlett @ The Fiscal Times (H/T Financial Armageddon).

When federal finances are discussed, it is almost always in terms of the difference between expenditures and revenues. Usually, the former exceed the latter and we have a deficit. The cumulative total of deficits less the occasional surpluses is what we call the national debt. When we analyze the debt in terms of its burden, it is usually by looking at it in terms of the gross domestic product. Presently, debt held by the public, the most common measure of federal debt, is $9.3 trillion, or about 60 percent of GDP.
If the federal government was a corporation and one was contemplating buying shares of its stock, however, one would certainly want to know much more about its finances. One would want to know about the government’s assets as well as its liabilities. And one would want to know whether there are any liabilities other than those included in the figures for debt held by the public, among other things.
These data are not easy to come by. For many years they appeared only in an obscure mimeographed document called the Statement of Liabilities and Other Financial Commitments of the United States that the Treasury Department produced only because it was required by a 1966 law to do so. The reason is that the financial statement showed vast government liabilities not included in the usual figures for the national debt. Since 1998, these data have been published in a document called the Financial Report of the U.S. Government. The fiscal year 2010 edition was released on Dec. 21.

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