Seven former chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers have issued a joint statement warning that continued large federal budget deficits pose "fundamental dangers" for the American economy.
The unusual statement from the seven economists, who span the economic spectrum from liberal to conservative, said that such deficits "would erode the long-term vitality and stability of the nation's economy. Even in the nearer term, however, the persistence of massive federal borrowing during a period of economic expansion can bring in its train mounting risks to the maintenance of economic stability at home and in the world economy."
Meanwhile, the American Enterprise Institute released its annual volume on "Contemporary Economic Problems," which it devoted to examining the impact of the deficits. Editor Phillip Cagan, head of the economics department at Columbia University, noted that for a variety of reasons, the impact has not been quite what most economists had expected, but that deficits are still serious.
"Aside from the short-run disturbances, the long-range problem is that U.S. budget deficits are piling up a mountain of public debt," Cagan said. "Interest payments on the debt add to future deficits, requiring ever larger budgetary adjustments to control the deficits at some later date, while growing debt and deficits tend to raise the interest rate.
"A long-range burden exists because the financing of the deficit tends either to crowd out domestic investment and reduce future economic growth or to mortgage an equivalent amount of future income to foreign holders of U.S. debt," he said.
The former CEA chairmen took a similar tack, urging that a combination of four steps be used to reduce the red ink. Those steps include reducing the rate of growth of domestic spending for "mandatory" entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, reducing other domestic spending, scaling back the increase in defense expenditures and increasing taxes.
The seven signers said they do not agree among themselves on how much of the deficit reduction package should come from each of the four categories, "But we do not differ on two essential points:
"1. It is of the utmost importance that we find a combination which will sharply reduce the prospective deficits to a point where a structural balance in the budget is at least within reach.
"2. As a practical matter, it will be difficult to devise an effective policy combination that will meet that goal without some contribution from each of the four elements," the statement concluded.
Three of the former chairmen -- Walter W. Heller, Gardner Ackley and Charles L. Schultze -- served in the Democratic administrations of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Carter. The other five -- Paul W. McCracken, Alan Greenspan, Murray L. Weidenbaum and Martin Feldstein -- were chairmen in the Republican adminstrations of Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan.