Monday, March 18, 2013

"America's Latest Phony Fiscal Crisis"

Former chief economist for the IMF, Simon Johnson @ Bloomberg:
In most countries that experience a fiscal crisis, there is no ambiguity about the situation. 
The government is unable to sell debt at a reasonable interest rate. This probably coincides with a broader shift out of domestic assets, as smart investors read the writing on the wall or in the newspapers. The currency collapses and, often, inflation accelerates. The government is forced to slash spending and, cap in hand, asks for help from the world’s least popular ambulance service: the International Monetary Fund.
British burn White House - War of 1812
No part of this description fits the modern U.S. Rates on government debt are very low, the currency isn’t depreciating rapidly and inflation seems stable. There is no imaginable circumstance under which the U.S. would need to borrow from the IMF. Yet this great land of innovation has undeniably invented its unique kind of fiscal crisis.

Or, to be more precise, we have reinvented the uniquely American way of ruining our fiscal affairs. At the beginning of the 19th century, Thomas Jefferson was obsessed with the idea that debt was bad and that the U.S.’s obligations -- inherited mostly from the War of Independence -- must be eliminated at all costs. (Jefferson himself had had some bad personal experiences with debt.)