Measuring US Fiscal Capacity Using Discounted Cash Flow Analysis

Zhengyang Jiang, Hanno Lustig, Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh, Mindy Z. Xiaolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We use discounted cash flow analysis to measure the projected fiscal capacity of the US federal government. We apply our valuation method to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections for the US federal government’s primary deficits between 2022 and 2052 and projected debt outstanding in 2052. The discount rate for projected cash flows and future debt must include a GDP or market risk premium in recognition of the risk associated with future surpluses. Despite current low interest rates, we find that US fiscal capacity is more limited than commonly thought. Because of the back-loading of projected primary surpluses, the duration of the surplus claim far exceeds the duration of the outstanding Treasury portfolio. This duration mismatch exposes the government to the risk of rising interest rates, which would trigger the need for higher tax revenue or lower spending. Reducing this risk by front-loading primary surpluses requires a major fiscal adjustment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-229
Number of pages73
JournalBrookings Papers on Economic Activity
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Economics and Econometrics


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