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'America is not a company': Former Obama economic advisor blasts Howard Schultz on debt fears

Key Points
  • Howard Schultz, the former Starbucks CEO announced a potential Presidential run as an independent candidate this week.
  • Frustrations with both parties' handling of the nation's finances, particularly the high levels of debt are part of his reasoning to potentially run as an independent candidate.
  • However, Jason Furman thinks Schulz's drumbeat on debt is wrong.
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Former Obama economic advisor: I don't agree with Schultz on national debt

This week, ex-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced a potential Presidential run as an independent candidate during an interview on CBS. Frustrations with both parties' handling of the nation's finances, particularly the high levels of debt are part of his reasoning to potentially run as an independent candidate.

Yet a couple of former high-ranking government officials insist the Brooklyn-born billionaire got it wrong. One of them is Jason Furman, the former head of Obama's economic council, who rebuked what he called Schultz's "obsession" with America's $21 trillion-plus debt.

"America is not a company," Furman, now a professor at Harvard University, told CNBC this week. "And in fact, many successful companies are much more leveraged than the United States," he said, adding that the present value of America's growth far exceeded its debt obligations.

Both Furman and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers insist that it's time for Washington to end its "delusion" with debt reduction. In a Foreign Affairs essay, the economists argued that large deficits are a function of falling revenues, rather than surging entitlement spending.

"More spending is not, by itself, something to be afraid of," they wrote, arguing that high levels of debt could be sustained in the medium-term, given that low interest rates mean borrowing costs are lower.

Given the areas in which America requires large investments--such as infrastructure, education and public services--the problem is less about cutting spending and more about increasing revenues, Furman told CNBC. While he called the debt "like termites slowly chipping away at the wood," he insisted it wasn't an immediate danger.

"We've not been on a spending spree in fact we've been on a tax cutting spree," the former chairman of the National Economic Council said, referencing President Donald Trump's signature tax-reduction bill.

Former Chairman and CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, speaks during the presentation of his book 'From The Ground Up' on January 28, 2019 in New York City.
Johannes Eisele | AFP | Getty Images



Yet deficit hawks point to government spending, which currently approximates to 20.3 percent of GDP and is projected to rise to 22.7 percent by 2029, according to Congressional Budget Office figures, as the real problem.

The federal government is expected to run a deficit of $1 trillion this year, and the CBO forecasts that debt as a share of the economy will top 90 percent of growth by 2029, up from itscurrent level of 78 percent.

Addressing the economic imbalances again at a book event in New York this week, Schultz stressed that "if America was a company, at $21.5 trillion of debt, adding $1 trillion a year, we would be facing insolvency. "

And some economists agree that the U.S.'s burgeoning debt is a long-term concern with implications for fiscal and monetary policy. Morgan Stanley wrote recently that the growing debt is putting a ceiling on the central banks' ability to raise interest rates, and makes the economy more vulnerable to long-term macroeconomic shocks.

"While it is not unusual to see corporations running up debt during a boom like this, it is unusual to see the government follow suit," said Ruchir Sharma, Morgan Stanley Investment Management's chief global strategist.

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Key Points
  • Former Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz is gearing up to visit early caucus and primary states as he mulls an independent run for president in 2020, CNBC has learned.
  • Schultz will likely travel to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada to speak with voters while he contemplates entering the races, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
  • "He's going all around the country. Those states are certainly part of the conversation," a person with direct knowledge of Schultz's plans told CNBC on the condition of anonymity.