Back in January, when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued its annual Budget and Economic Outlook, the Washington Post and other deficit hawk types seized on the projections of rising deficits and debt to GDP ratios in the latter part of its 10-year projections. There was another round of cries for deficit reduction, with cuts to Social Security and Medicare again holding center stage.
Some of us took the opportunity to point out that the projections of rising deficits hinged almost entirely on CBO's projections that interest rates would rise sharply in the next few years. In effect, it assumed that interest rates would soon return to levels that were similar to their pre-crash levels. CBO had made the same assumption in its prior six Budget and Economic Outlooks. It had been wrong.
It now looks like it will be wrong again, at least for its 2016 prediction on rates. It projected in January that the 10-year Treasury bond rate would average 2.8 percent. It has averaged less than 2.0 percent through the first five and half months of the year and is currently hovering near 1.6 percent.
This means that if interest rates are going to return to "normal" or near normal levels, it is likely to be further in the future than previously believed. Don't bet on that causing the deficit hawks to give up their attacks on Social Security and Medicare, but hopefully the rest of the world will take them even less seriously than is currently the case.
One final point: it would be good if interest rates did rise because it would mean the economy was getting stronger, so there is no reason to celebrate low interest rates. However, in the context of an economy than is still far from having recovered from the collapse of the housing bubble, low interest rates are better than high interest rates.