From the White House Budget Office Deficit records:

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The US government is currently running a projected 2019 deficit of 5.1% of GDP (somewhere around $1.05 Trillion).

The Bureau of Economic analysis currently projects 2019 real GDP growth to be 3.1%. Even if you use their nominal (current-dollar) GDP figure, it is still only 3.8% growth.

If the government is essentially injecting 5.1% of GDP into the economy, is the economy really growing if the growth rate is only 3.8%?

Aside: take a look at those 2009-2012 numbers. Tons of government deficit spending there, too and only modest growth from those years.

  • 2009-2012 were the years of an economic slump. You would expect a shrinking economy. But with the government expenses of these years it become a modest growth. Money well spent. Jul 13, 2019 at 3:11

3 Answers 3


Yes the US economy is growing. GDP is the market value of all the produced goods and services. If it grows, it grows. A growing GDP means that someone consumes more (not necessarily everyone). The economic gains for some are real.

Now the thing with the deficit. The US government is partly borrowing money to finance its operations, huge amounts of money. It could increase taxes instead or cut the budget both of which might influence growth negatively, but the interest rate that the US government has to pay on government bonds is quite low and in some other countries currently even negative. What do you do if people want to throw money at you? You take it. The deficit spending in the US can continue for some more time while the overall debt level is still not regarded too high.

At some point investors may lose faith in the US dollar and switch to other currencies or a future US government could decide to prints lots of dollars to pay back creditors, which then results in some kind of inflation. Then a lot of gains made now could prove being only temporary. We have to wait and see how it all works out in the long run.

In general, you would have to look at the overall debt, government and private and commercial. And you would also like to look at inequality because who cares if the upper 1% earns much more while real wages are stagnating for the lower 50%? Unequal economic gains can be losses for many.

  • Its worth noting that it is named info law that the US can't default on its debt, so even if it doesn't pay out in 200 years, its still a safe investment. Jul 15, 2019 at 22:23

If the government is essentially injecting 5.1% of GDP into the economy, is the economy really growing if the growth rate is only 3.8%?

These things are not directly related. Having a deficit expressed as a percentage of GDP says nothing at all about how much is being “injected into the economy” by government spending.

All government spending on final goods and services, at every level, regardless of whether it is deficit spending, is included in the calculation for any country’s GDP. In the United States, that is usually slightly less than 20% of GDP each year (I haven’t looked up current numbers). Although the government share of GDP has been increasing, it has not been increasing by anything close to 5% or 3% of GDP annually.

Note that, a large part of government spending is not spent on final goods and services, but on transfer payments, like Social Security. That would be counted in the deficit, but not counted in the government’s share of GDP.

  • yes, but ordinary (non-deficit) spending would supposedly be financed by taxes paid out by citizens. I.E that money would have a real origin tied to economic activity. Whereas deficit spending is just pulling money out of the air and pumping into the economy
    – user23920
    Jul 13, 2019 at 15:31
  • 1
    @Augustus - Not quite. Deficit spending is usually effectively financed by borrowing from foreign or domestic individuals, or international organizations or governments. Or from previously saved income, in the case of a country with a national surplus. It can involve printing money (inflationary), but even then it's an increase in government spending power at the expense of private citizens, which on the gross scale equates to borrowing.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jul 13, 2019 at 18:51
  • @Augustus In addition to Obie’s excellent comment, it is worth nothing that in the United States, the money supply is not controlled by Congress, but the Federal Reserve. Monetary policy, what the size of the money supply should be, is not the same at all as fiscal policy, what money the government spends.
    – Joe
    Jul 14, 2019 at 4:49

I think that you effectively answered your own question by attaching the data. I'd ask you the following question - was the GDP growing in previous years? In previous years you had the same problem - modest growth and significant deficit. Nevertheless, from time perspective you may see that GDP grew in those years.

The missing part of puzzle:

  • deficit is a phenomena affecting each year individually
  • GDP growth raises you GDP in next years

Your gut feeling would be correct, if after spending spree in one year, the next year economy would fall back to previous output level. As this is not happening, then you may call the growth as "real".

  • Looking only at periods of one year may be too short. Example: Greece had a high deficit and growth year over year until 2007 and then the economic party was over. In the end, the growth didn't persist. Jul 13, 2019 at 12:59
  • This analysis assumes that any growth from the current year is ONLY related to government spending in the previous year. Not sure that is correct or really makes sense...
    – user23920
    Jul 13, 2019 at 15:34
  • @Agustus No, I did NOT claim so. I don't point what's the source of growth. I simply point out that, regardless to what extend the annual GDP figures are inflated by debt spending, those raised GDP figures actually seem to stay in subsequent years.
    – Shadow1024
    Jul 13, 2019 at 15:41

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