The Deficit leads to the Debt
I have overheard more than 1 conversation over the past little while with folks discussing the Government’s Deficit and how it is the most important thing the Government needs to deal with. While the conversation sounds well based in facts, sometimes these same folks seem to think that once the (budget) deficit is dealt with, the Canadian Government and the rest of the world’s governments will be just fine.
Sometimes I interject and point out that not running a deficit budget is a noble and good thing, however, dealing with the National Debt is a far more important issue to clear up, or have a plan on how to get rid of. Mostly I am poo-poo’ed as a nay-sayer, but on occasion I have had folks say to me, “Aren’t they the same thing?”.
So for those out there let’s just run down these two important Governmental fiduciary issues.
This is the same as you and I borrowing money from a line of credit, or worse our credit cards, to pay for our day to day living expenses. The government’s set of expenditures (in the fiscal year) is going to be more than they take in, in income (i.e. taxes, levies, and others) and thus they must borrow money to make the government run.
Typically this borrowing (in Canada) is in the form of short term debt (Treasury Bills) or longer term debt (Canada Savings Bonds), and this debt is typically bought and has a rating associated with it, to show that the Government is a good credit risk (this is where the Greek and EU issues arise, no one seems to trust these folks to pay back these debt vehicles).
Much of Canada’s debt vehicles are actually held by Canadian Citizen’s (although I am not sure of the exact numbers, anyone cares to chime in go ahead). In the U.S. the national debt is mostly held by foreign institutions (rumor has it the Chinese and Japanese mostly), which is more worrisome (as with all debt vehicles, the lenders can call these loans whenever they wish).
This is a direct connection to, but not the same as the budget deficit. For each year that the Government runs a deficit budget the National Debt increases by that size (I believe the debt started in the 1970’s) for each year. This debt is effectively the principle on the long term debt put out by the government to finance the deficit budgets.
This debt is a lot like your Mortgage in terms of size (however if the Government ever pays it off, they don’t really have a tangible asset like your house at the end of it), but now Canada is effectively very house poor, due to the size of the National Debt.
How big is the national debt? Well if you are to believe the Canadian Tax Payers Federation, pretty darn big.
If you refresh you’ll see it increase. When I looked it was $523 Billion dollars, that is chump change compared to the USA, but still a big chunk of money. Allegedly my portion of it is $15,412.68, I’ll send the government an IOU for that.
Debt Service Charges
As with all debt, the first thing that the Government must do every year is service their debt, so thanks to this National Debt Canada must pay every year (much like you do with your Mortgage) at least the interest owed on the debt, so that is money spent for things we already had and did.
This issue is the crux of why paying off a large debt is important, any moneys you are spending on the Interest to service the debt vehicles you use is lost money, if you pay the debt off you can use that money for real tangible things, or even save it.
Hopefully this overly simplistic view of the Budget Deficit and National Debt will cause you to think, if you feel I am missing some major point, please feel free to comment.