The private sector’s “leaner and meaner” approach has put the economy on solid footing, but businesses face five more years of slow and erratic progress from the “Great Recession” of 2008.
That’s according to Paul Ballew, Dun & Bradstreet’s global chief data and analytics officer, who spoke Tuesday morning at an economic forum at the Ronald Reagan Building in D.C. hosted by the Short Hills, N.J.-based business information company.
“The private sector has made dramatic strides in restructuring,” Ballew said. “By any measure that we have, the private sector is healthier today than it has been in two decades. That’s occurred thanks to a lot of hard work — cost-cutting, productivity, innovation and investment spending.”
But some of the real problems are lurking in other global markets, Ballew said — in particular their high levels of debt and deficit spending.
Total debt levels in developed economies, such as Japan, France and Germany, have increased since 2000. But the debt-level picture blurs when divided into household, corporate and public sector debt. Household debt is increasing in countries such as France, Italy and Canada, but in Spain and Germany it’s decreasing.
In the U.S., deficit spending is an issue, Ballew said.
“We’re four years into recovery and to continue to have this level of deficit spending is an ongoing problem,” he said. “We still have a structural deficit of $600 hundred billion to $700 hundred billion a year. It’s unsustainable over some period.”
A solution will come from tax code changes and entitlement spending, but with the significant questions — how, when and under what circumstances among them — to be answered. If a solution isn’t reached, Ballew said, whatever is left from discretionary spending will decrease.
“You’re just squeezing this sponge more and more and more to get the water out of it,” Ballew said about discretionary spending. “And eventually, each squeeze gets you less and less water. That’s the reality, that’s just the math. It’s the hard numbers we’ll deal with.”
Ballew remains optimistic, however, about the future, citing previous economic downturns and how their outcomes eventually were positive.
“Our children and grandchildren will have a bright future,” he said.