View FREE Lessons!

Definition of a Deficit:

A deficit is a shortage or deficiency, most often related to finances.

Detailed Explanation:

A country faces a trade deficit when its imports surpass its exports. Likewise, a government experiences a budget or fiscal deficit when its revenues, primarily derived from taxes, fall short of its expenditures. Conversely, a budget surplus emerges when tax revenues exceed spending. Governments finance their spending through a mix of tax collection, issuing debt, or printing money. However, determining how to address increased spending or a growing deficit presents a dilemma. Tax hikes are generally unpopular and can impede economic growth, while printing money risks inflationary pressures. Issuing debt escalates government interest payments and may crowd out investment by businesses and households.

Moreover, cutting spending to reduce deficits can be politically contentious, as beneficiaries of government programs often resist such measures. Since 1970, the only period the US government recorded a surplus was from 1998 through 2001. In response to the economic fallout from COVID-19, the US government incurred significant deficits to mitigate its impact. The accompanying graph illustrates the rapid expansion of government spending and depicts the historical correlation between government outlays and revenues.

Source: OMB Historical Tables, Table 1.1

Most economists concur that the United States needs to address its deficit. They argue that healthcare, social services, and/or military expenditures are too high. Recognizing the issue of overspending is straightforward. However, reaching a consensus on deficit reduction poses a significant challenge due to the diverse ideologies shaping our politicians’ perspectives on which services to trim or who should bear the burden of tax increases.

While deficits are typically associated with the fiscal management of a government, households and businesses can operate at a deficit when their expenses surpass their income.

Dig Deeper With These Free Lessons:

Economics – Managing our Scarce Resources
The Federal Budget and Managing the National Debt
Opportunity Costs – The Cost of Every Decision
Fiscal Policy – Managing an Economy By Taxing and Spending
Marginal Analysis – How Decisions Are Made
Economic Systems

Search the Glossary

Investment Calculator:

Market Overview:

Market quotes are powered by

Single Quote:

© Higher Rock Education and Learning, Inc. All rights reserved. No portion of this site may be copied or distributed by any means, including electronic distribution without the express written consent of Higher Rock Education and Learning, Inc.