The post war debt run-up

The post war debt run-up

The post World War II era has shown rapid growth in government spending, and it shows no sign of ending.  Soon after WWII, government spending dropped back to 21 percent of GDP.  But it has steadily climbed thereafter, hitting a peak of 36 percent of GDP in the recession trough of 1980-82. Since the economic crisis in 2008, spending has surged to record levels.

This spending has been extensively financed through borrowing .. fueling debt growth. For the 35 years following WWII, successive governments brought down the debt, until the Presidency of Ronald Reagan.  Over the course of his tenure, federal debt grew to over 50 percent of GDP. With the exception of the Clinton years, the federal debt has continued to grow steeply.  At the present time, President Obama is increasing the debt to fund a plan to revive the economy in the aftermath of the Crash of 2008.

Here’s a bar chart showing average annual growth in real debt per capita, demarcated by completed post-war presidential tenures, Ike through Bush 2.  The data is adjusted for inflation and population growth.  The federal debt data originates from the U.S. Treasury Department, as compiled here:  Midyear population is sourced from the Bureau of Economic Analysis .

As the historical record shows, almost all of the growth in the federal debt over the post-war period Ike through Bush2 was accumulated under the presidential tenures of Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush, and George W Bush.

Here’s a bar chart showing the annual budget results demarcated by completed post-war presidential tenures, Ike through Bush2. The chart points out where and when the most significant post-war fiscal deterioration occurred.

As the historical record shows, deficits accumulated under the combined tenures of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush contributed overwhelmingly to the growth of the Nation’s federal debt in the post-war period, Ike through Bush2.  

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