A Wealth of Information

Posted by Tim Irwin

The US federal government has recently issued its financial report for the year ending September 2010. As in earlier years, the report fails to get a clean bill of health from its auditor, the GAO (and on a superficial note isn’t typeset and formatted with the care that might be thought appropriate for the report of the world’s largest reporting entity). But it is also extremely impressive for the kind of information it contains, including—among much else—an accrual-based measure of the fiscal deficit to supplement the mainly cash-based budget measures, a balance sheet, and a statement of social insurance, showing an estimate of the net present cost of projected cash flows for Social Security and Medicare. For the first time, the report also includes comprehensive 75-year fiscal projections, which take account of not just social insurance but all government spending and revenue.

As for the numbers, the accrual deficit is $2.1 trillion, compared to $1.4 trillion for the cash-based budget deficit. Net worth is a negative $13.5 trillion, compared with negative $11.5 trillion the year before. The estimated net present cost of social insurance (on which GAO this year declined to express an opinion) is $30.8 trillion, a reduction of $15.0 trillion compared to the previous year—“much of this decrease” being “attributable to the estimated effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on the Medicare program.” There is much to analyze and discuss in this report in the coming months.

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