Why do so many countries so often wander far off the path of fiscal responsibility? Concern about budget deficits has become a burning political issue in the United States, has helped persuade the United Kingdom to enact stringent cuts despite a weak economy, and is the proximate cause of the Greek sovereign-debt crisis, which has grown to engulf the entire eurozone. Indeed, among industrialized countries, hardly a one is immune from fiscal woes.
Clearly, part of the blame lies with voters who don’t want to hear that budget discipline means cutting programs that matter to them, and with politicians who tell voters only what they want to hear. But another factor has attracted insufficient notice: systematically over-optimistic official forecasts.
My preceding blog-post discussed the process whereby the undervalued renminbi and large Chinese trade surplus have begun to adjust in earnest, over the last three years.
The adjustment in the Chinese trade balance is reminiscent of Japan with a 30-year lag, like other aspects of the US-China relationshkp (though not all). Japan’s balance of trade in goods and services went into deficit in 2011, for the first time since 1980. Special factors have played a role in the last year, including high oil prices and the effects of the tsunami in March 2011. But the downward trend in the trade balance is clear. Even the current account temporarily showed a deficit in January. (Because Japan has long been the world’s largest creditor, a large surplus in investment income is usually enough to change any trade deficit into a surplus on the overall current account.)