[O]ver the past 47 months, or almost 4 full fiscal years, the US has accumulated a $3.3 trillion deficit, while over the same period, total Federal debt increased by $4.9 trillion, from $8.6 trillion to $13.4 trillion.
The ex-Wall Street types at ZeroHedge chewed on this but couldn't come up with a good explanation. Karl Denninger called it crooked accounting, but couldn't pinpoint the fraud. B-Daddy at the Liberator Today noticed the same thing and didn't have an answer. Then I threw the question over to the academics at Econbrowser:
None of the academics among the bloggers and commenters at Econbrowser could answer the question, until Menzie Chinn found an expert who could.
If it's such a simple accounting identity, would you please reconcile the $1.9 trillion and $1.65 trillion debt increases in FY 09 and FY 10 with the alleged deficits of $1.4 trillion and $1.3 trillion for the same fiscal years?
And before you answer that it's the Social Security Trust Fund, intragovernmental holdings increased by just $320 billion over the two years.
So where's the other $530 billion?
I and many others suspected the answer was in some off-budget shenanigans like Fannie/Freddie, GMAC, etc. It turns out we were right in general but missed the biggest specific off-budget item: student loans. In table S-14 of this FY2011 OMB Mid-Session Review shown to me by Menzie, you'll see that the financial asset "Direct loan acccounts" increased from $489 billion to $689 billion. And the prior Mid-Session Review (table S-15) shows that account at $196 billion at the end of FY08. So an increase in student loans accounted for $
There's also an increase of $100 billion in "Government-sponsored enterprise preferred stock" (Because Fannie and Freddie are assets to the Treasury, not liabilities, right! How are those preferred dividends working out for you, Timmy?). Together with the student loans and the change in intra-governmental holdings, that explains the vast majority of the difference between the reported two-year deficit and the actual increase in debt.
From an economic perspective, Karl Denninger is right when he argues that we should rely on the increase in debt rather than the reported deficit. The $100 billion "asset" in money-losing black holes Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is an outright fraud. And the almost $
Using the actual debt numbers rather than the massaged "deficit" numbers, it looks like we're heading into our third consecutive year of deficits well over 10% of GDP.
UPDATE: Mike Shedlock (Mish) has dug in with more commentary and analysis. Thanks, Mish!