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Is International Growth the Way Out of U.S. Current Account Deficits? A Note of Caution

Anwar Shaikh (), Gennaro Zezza and Claudio dos Santos

Economics Policy Note Archive from Levy Economics Institute

Abstract: The current account deficit of the United States has been growing steadily as a share of GDP for more than a decade. It is now at an all-time high, over 5 percent of GDP (see Figure 1). This steady deterioration has been greeted with an increasing amount of concern (U.S Trade Deficit Review Commission 2000; Brookings Papers 2001; Godley 2001; Mann 2002). At The Levy Economics Institute, we have long argued that this burgeoning deficit is unsustainable. A current account deficit implies a growing external debt, which in turn implies a continuing shift in net income received from abroad (net interest and dividend flows) in favor of foreigners.We have also noted that with the private sector headed toward balance, a growing current account deficit implies a corresponding growing "twin" deficit for the government sector (Papadimitriou, et al 2002; Godley 2003). This latter scenario has already come to pass: the latest figures show that the general government deficit rose to an annual rate of more than 4 percent of GDP in the first quarter of 2003 and will certainly rise even more in the near future, since the federal deficit alone is officially projected to reach 4 percent by the end of this fiscal year (CBO 2003).

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