A Record Current Account Deficit: Causes and Implications

By Hervey, Jack L.; Merkel, Loula S. | Economic Perspectives, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

A Record Current Account Deficit: Causes and Implications


Hervey, Jack L., Merkel, Loula S., Economic Perspectives


Introduction and summary

The U.S. deficit in international trade soared to new heights in 1998, again in 1999, and in all likelihood, will increase even further this year. Mirroring these deficits have been huge foreign capital inflows. In 1999, the U.S. current account deficit--that is, the difference between exports and imports of goods, services, receipts and payments of income from and to foreigners, and unilateral transfers--totaled $331 billion or 3.6 percent of nominal gross domestic product (GDP). This record deficit compares with the previous record of $217 billion (2.5 percent of GDP) in 1998 and $141 billion (1.7 percent of GDP) in 1997. The magnitude of the recent year-to-year increases in this deficit, as well as its absolute dollar size, has raised considerable concern among many public and private observers of the U.S. economy. Not since 1987, when the current account deficit peaked at a then record $161 billion, has the condition of the U.S. international accounts so captured the attention of economists, policymakers, and the popular press.

Further compounding uneasiness about the current situation is the expectation by many economists that the magnitude of the trade deficit will show a further increase this year and that only a modest reduction, if any, is likely in 2001. Indeed, trade developments thus far in 2000 indicate that at least the first half of that expectation (that is, an increase in the year-to-year size of the deficit during 2000) will be borne out. There are also fears surrounding an eventual economic adjustment--"the current account gap ... is the single biggest threat to the current expansion of the economy." [1]

There is nothing inherently "bad" (or "good") about a current account deficit--or for that matter, a current account surplus. However, the concern about the deficit that has drawn the attention of reasonable observers centers on a specific issue: Does the deficit in the U.S. international accounts represent a risk to our economic well-being in the near term or in the longer term? To answer this question, we need to identify the underlying cause of the deficit. What developments during the past two or three years--in the domestic economy and in the rest of the world--have led the U.S. to purchase dramatically more goods and services from abroad than it sold abroad? Furthermore, can the U.S. economy maintain a deficit of this magnitude? And, if not, what are the likely implications of an adjustment for the U.S. economy?

Three rationales are commonly used to explain the sudden and dramatic increase in the U.S. current account deficit. The first rationale contends that U.S. consumers have shifted their preferences from saving for the future--witness the near zero personal savings rate--toward purchasing more consumption goods in the present. [2] This surge in demand for domestic consumption goods translates into a corresponding increase in imported consumption goods. We call this the consumption boom hypothesis. Certainly, trade in consumer-type goods has increased in recent years. Indeed, more than 60 percent ($52 billion) of the year-to-year increase in the goods trade deficit between 1998 and 1999 was accounted for by the year-to-year increase in consumer goods, foods and beverages, and automotive imports (most of which are broadly classed as consumer goods). If the consumption boom story is true, it implies that there has been excessive borrowing from abroad to finance a domestic consumption binge. And according to this a rgument, since this borrowing has not gone toward enhancing productivity, the economy will be forced to suffer a decline in consumption in the future as resources are diverted away from production for domestic use toward production to service the foreign debt.

A second hypothesis suggests that the financial/exchange rate crises in Asia, Russia, and Brazil from mid-1997 through early 1999 contributed to a "safe haven" inflow of short-term foreign capital into U. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Record Current Account Deficit: Causes and Implications
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.