Living in Southern California is extraordinary, but just like anything else, there are always tradeoffs, including traffic. Living in the United States is extraordinary too, but one of the detrimental tradeoffs is political gridlock…or is it? I am just as frustrated as anybody else that the knucklehead politicians in Washington can’t get their act together (especially on bipartisan issues such as taxes/immigration/deficits, etc.), but as it turns out, gridlock has created a significant financial silver lining.
Let’s take a look at some of the positive impacts of gridlock:
1) Federal Spending as percent of GDP Declines
The demands of both Tax-and-Spend Democrats and Tea-Partier Republicans fell on deaf ears thanks to gridlock. The U.S. didn’t institute the depth of austerity that the far-right wanted, and Congress didn’t implement the additional fiscal stimulus the far-left desired. The result has been a slow but steady recovery, which has brought spending closer to historical averages.
2) Private vs. Public Sector
The implementation of more responsible (or less irresponsible) government spending has freed up resources and allowed the private sector to slowly add jobs. The next wave of sequestration spending cuts may unleash some more pain on the public sector and delay overall economic recovery further, but just like dieting, we will feel much better once we have shed more debt and spending — at least as a percentage of GDP.
3) Deficit Reduced Significantly
The chart above is closely tied to point #1 (government spending), but as you can see, revenues have climbed significantly since 2010. I would argue plain economic cyclicality has more impact on the volatility of revenues. Blaming the current administration on the collapse or crediting them for the rebound is probably overstated. Comprehensive tax reform would likely have a lot more impact on the slope of revenues relative to the recent tax policy changes.
The same picture can be seen from a different angle, as shown above (Deficit as percent of GDP). While the absolute dollar amounts are staggeringly high, as a percentage of GDP, the percentage has been chopped by more than half since the peak of the crisis.
Everyone would like to see politicians solve all of our problems, but as we have experienced, deep philosophical differences can lead to political gridlock. When it comes to our nation’s finances, gridlock may not be optimal, but you can also see that a stalemate is not always the worst outcome either. As politicians continue to scream at each other with purple faces, I will monitor the developments from my car radio while in California gridlocked traffic…sunroof open of course.
Wade Slome, CFA CFP is President and Founder of Sidoxia Capital Management and shares his investing insights at Investing Caffeine.