CBO Forecasts: Then And Now

A few hours ago, the CBO published its most recent 10 year revised outlook for US revenue and spending: The Budget and Economic Outlook for fiscal years 2013-2023. Not surprisingly it was, as anything to ever come out of the CBO, overly optimistic. Promptly, the media latched on to the revised deficit expectations according to which the CBO now sees a budget deficit declining from 845 billion to "only" $642 billion in 2013, and dropping to $560 billion the year after. This looks at the short end: the near-term revenue benefits of recent tax increase policy which take from long-term growth (just ask Europe). The fact that the CBO also forecast the deficit proceeding to once again balloon to $895 billion by 2023 at which point the deficit difference between total spending and revenues goes asymptotic once the demographic crunch truly hits, was ignored by all.

We will ignore the underlying drivers to the CBO revision: we let readers peruse these at leisure. Instead, we will simply muse at the ridiculousness of anything called a "forecast" coming out of the CBO, and present how the "independent" economic forecasts from this office change in time.

On the chart below, the dotted lines are the CBO forecasts as a % of GDP from January 2008 for the period 2008-2018. The solid lines are the just released revised forecasts for 2013-2023.

Perhaps the most notable difference is that in 2008, the CBO was predicting that the US budget deficit would turn into a surplus in 2011. Instead ended up being an $1+ trillion deficit for that year alone. Also, in the period between 2008 and 2013, the CBO then forecast a cumulative deficit of just a few hundred billion. Instead, we ended up with deficits of over $5 trillion and, sadly, still rising.

So take anything coming out of the CBO with a very big grain of salt.

But for now, with the market hitting new highs every single day just because, the CBO is surely allowed to come up with any goalseeked numbers: it's not like anyone cares when stocks are soaring in a trance that is now completely disconnected from anything and only reliant on central bank balance sheets. And of course, we can't wait to look back in five years and laugh at this specific revised "forecast."


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