The recent rate of growth in U.S. debt is not exceptional

October 16, 2013

Monkey Cage reader, freelance journalist, and Columbia University graduate student Casey Michel sends along the following figure that he put together that tracks the rate of growth in the US debt over the previous four year period since 1913:

(Figure: Casey Michel; Data US Treasury:
(Figure: Casey Michel; Data US Treasury:

The source of the data is the U.S. Treasury Department’s tally of annual historic debt, found here.

What is so interesting about the figure is that it shows that the Obama years – despite a large rise in the nominal quantity of debt – are far from extraordinary in terms of the rate of debt growth over the preceding four years. In fact, if we extend the data series back to 1810, we find that prior to 2009, debt grew in the preceding four years at a faster rate than the rate at which it has increased since Obama took office in all of the following years: 1815-1817; 1839-1844; 1848-1851; 1859-1867; 1917-1921; 1942-1947; 1934-1937; 1978; 1983-1988.

Joshua Tucker is a Professor of Politics at New York University. He specializes in voting, partisanship, public opinion, and protest, as well as the relationship of social media usage to all of these forms of behavior, with a focus on Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
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