The Budget Deficit: Does It Matter?

Peter R. Orszag
Peter R. Orszag Vice Chairman of Investment Banking, Managing Director, and Global Co-Head of Healthcare - Lazard

July 16, 2004

Thank you. I am honored to be here at the City Club of Cleveland, and I’d like to express my thanks to Jim Foster and Bud Talbott for extending the invitation. As you may know, Bud’s son is now the president of Brookings, where I work. I’m told that Bud has particularly high standards, and I suppose if I don’t live up to them this afternoon, I may hear about it back at work next week.

My topic today is the U.S. budget deficit and its effects. In 2003, the budget deficit amounted to slightly less than $400 billion. That’s about 3½ percent of GDP. Under reasonable projections, the deficit is expected to remain about this share of the economy over the next decade – and then grow much larger as the costs mount from the retirement of the baby boomers.

The title of my talk asks whether these deficits matter. I assume that a simple “yes” would not suffice in this intellectually rigorous environment. So I’ll spend most of my talk describing the various ways in which substantial budget deficits are economically harmful, and then provide some thoughts on how we can bring the deficit under control.