« "Traumatic Brain Injury and the Military" | Main | Nothing is better than: »

07 March 2010

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Mark Gaughan

Pat,
"We have become a debtor country in a massive way. That debt is growing rapidly and it threatens to crush us."
It isn't good, but, from: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/

March 5, 2010, 11:23 am
Debt Is A Political Issue

Earlier this week I gave a talk about the state of the crisis at Princeton’s Plasma Physics Lab, and one audience member asked a really good question: if the problem is that interest rates are at the zero lower bound, why should we worry about government borrowing? After all, doesn’t that mean that the government can borrow at a zero rate?

Now, part of the answer is that you really don’t want governments financing themselves largely with very short-term debt — that makes them too vulnerable to liquidity crises. But even long-term rates are low — the real interest rate on 10-year bonds is below 1.5 percent.

And if you do the arithmetic of debt service, that really does seem to suggest that debt isn’t a problem. To stabilize the real value of debt, all the government has to do is pay the real interest on it. So suppose that we add debt equal to 100 percent of GDP, which is much more than currently projected; servicing that debt should cost only 1.4 percent of GDP, or 7 percent of federal spending. Why should that be intolerable?

And even that, you could argue, is too pessimistic. To stabilize the debt/GDP ratio, all you need is to pay r-g, where r is the real interest rate and g the economy’s real growth rate; and right now r-g looks, ahem, negative.

And this benign view of debt isn’t just hypothetical: countries have, in reality, run up immense debt/GDP ratios without going insolvent: see the history of Britain, above. (The graph didn't paste.mg)

So what’s the problem? Confidence. If bond investors start to lose confidence in a country’s eventual willingness to run even the small primary surpluses needed to service a large debt, they’ll demand higher rates, which requires much larger primary surpluses, and you can go into a death spiral.

So what determines confidence? The actual level of debt has some influence — but it’s not as if there’s a red line, where you cross 90 or 100 percent of GDP and kablooie; see the chart above. (Once again, the chart didn't paste.mg) Instead, it has a lot to do with the perceived responsibility of the political elite.

What this means is that if you’re worried about the US fiscal position, you should not be focused on this year’s deficit, let alone the 0.07% of GDP in unemployment benefits Bunning tried to stop. You should, instead, worry about when investors will lose confidence in a country where one party insists both that raising taxes is anathema and that trying to rein in Medicare spending means creating death panels.

ISL

Dear Colonel, your prescience on this topic was better than mine; however, as you note, the economic costs seem to be overwhelming the still powerful neo-con fantasies to which I gave greater credence.

Also, juancole notes the likely improved electoral fortunes of Sadr-ists and others shiite's who will increase pressure for a rapidUS withdrawal, despite Kurdish and possibly Maliki's somewhat opaque desires.

It also may be in China's interest, which has stopped financing our debt (which is too large for Asia to finance anyway), which could see a slower bleed in the Hindu Kush as creating less volatility for the global changes that will occur with rapidly approaching times when China's GDP overtakes the US.

Sidenote GDP is a lousy indicator of economic strength as it was developed to characterize how large a military a country can afford.

Dan M

It's a theme touched on here many times in the past. But I'm always stunned at how long it took for senior dips and officers to come to grips with our limited influence in Iraq. This was my take on the aftermath of the last election. http://tinyurl.com/bhnnp
(Similiar takes belonged to many others). Only thing that seems to change (or i and a few others got flat wrong) is that Sadr moved firmly into the Iranian camp in the last five years). I would argue we have had marginal influenace on ultimate outcomes in Iraq for at least that long.

Patrick Lang

DanM

I, too, am tired of this story, but felt I had to say something. The neocons are remarkably persistent in saying their tripe about "the surge." pl

confusedponderer

Ah yes, the blue finger. When the GOP got all upset about ACORN and them allegedly registering fake voters, allowing ACORN people then to vote several times (allegations brought in time for the elections, and that were found in subsequent to have been almost completely baseless), I wondered why the US didn't adopt the blue finger domestically. After all, what's good for the goose ...

As for the neo-cons and their persistent peddling of said tripe - that's just their SOP. The Cheneys and Yoo use it, too. Apparently the idea is that it doesn't need to be true, it only needs to be repeated ad nauseam with a straight face as if it was true. That worked throughout most of the Bush presidency as well.

That is being facilitated by the likes of FOX who are ever so keen to present the 'other side' even of one sided issues like torture.

William R. Cumming

Whatever the outcome the spin will be heavy on the "results"! In some ways I am guessing even ethnic strife in Iraq will soon be set aside as the struggle for capture of the oil supply and its revenues become paramount by those surviving the last seven years. Perhaps James Baker was wrong in flatly stating the invasion was all about oil for the US but the coming strife will document that the underlying reality of any nation-state that comes out of the current system will be built exclusively on oil not social justice and another huge petro-power will have been created. Wondering if the next invasion of Kuwait by Iraq will be blocked by International forces? Expect that to happen within next two decades as US policy in the middle east collpases over its support of Israel and the petro-powers discover they no longer need US consumption to power their development since South and East Asia will more than make up the difference. What would be of interest is to document how the varous candidates ran and funded their "campaigns" for office? And how much did the US lay out for the expenses of holding this election for the "fig leaf" holder for the US withdrawal?

Charles I

Mark Gaughan, here's the problem.

The U.S taxpayer is fronting the banks money at 0% so that they will continue to buy Treasury bills that pay a higher rate of return. So long as the banks believe that the debt is somewhat sound, they will continue profiting, continue propping up the government's apparent cash flow while ensuring that it is at all times flowing into the red.

How long should we be confident that situation can continue, let alone be that basis for economic recovery on a sound fiscal and regulatory basis. How long could you lend money out at 0% based only upon previous sales, each of which costs you money, devalues your portfolio, and increases your mortgage?

RAISER William

I hope you're right. I think your analysis makes sense. I'm not so convinced that those in position to decide are as sensible.

Here's hoping... For Iraqis, the US and the rest of the world.

Green Zone Cafe

I was out today as an election observer, and visited a number of polling stations in a large and relatively Iraqi city with other "international observers." There were at least UN, EU, Turkish, and Arab League observers out today in Iraq in addition to the US.

Lampposts and fences in town have been covered in election posters over the last month, for both the party/coalition lists and individual candidates within the list, which people can vote for directly now. Maliki's 337 State of Law list had the most and biggest posters where I am, but the other lists do not seem
to be impeded.

The polling stations were almost all in schools and most of the election staff were teachers. In each polling station (room) for about 400 people, there was someone to check the person's name against the voter roll, another to give out and stamp the ballot, and another to invite the voter to ink the finger and take the ballot for deposit in the ballot box. There would be six to ten such rooms within the voting location.

Most polling stations had observers from political parties and civil society organizations, on the theory that this will keep the process more honest. None of them reported any outright fraud. there were complaints from people whose names were not on the voter list.

The heaviest voting was in the late morning and died down during lunch until a lesser wave in the late afternoon before the polls closed at 5pm.

Many people brought their children to the polls and took them into the cardboard "booth." Some children were dressed up as to a festive occasion. I saw a couple of boys carrying small Iraqi flags.

This is what I saw today.

Green Zone Cafe

Meant to say "relatively peaceful Iraqi city."

N. M. Salamon

Charles:

The banks do not have the money to buy treasuries, except if they borrow printed money from the Feds. The toxic asssets and derivatives are still on the books.
When the Fed prints the money [computer transfer] the fiat currency depreciates, raises the price of oil and SAYS AMEN TO RECOVERY.

Mark Gaughan

Charles I,
That is the $64,000,000,000,000 dollar question isn't it?
(Give or take a few zeros.)
Mark

walrus

Col. Lang, we discussed this matter here and came to the conclusion, I think, that America may not be able to afford war, at least without great domestic pain. One wonders if the Pentagon would take the prospect of military budget cutbacks lying down?

http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2007/09/prediction-vali.html

Patrick Lang

Tusked One

What do you imagine that they could do about it? Surely, you are not indulging yourself with "Seven Days in May" fantasies? pl

walrus

Col. Lang,

"What do you imagine that they could do about it? Surely, you are not indulging yourself with "Seven Days in May" fantasies? pl "

Moi?

The Pentagon of course can do nothing, but I wonder if it's advocates in the Legislature wouldn't be rather vocal and obstructive if the cuts were more than symbolic, but what would I know?

Got A Watch

If there's no money - there is no money. Does not matter what was wished for, hoped for, or dreamed of. The part they can't grasp in Washington.

To begin to repair the Budget, deep spending cuts are required. Like 50% or more at Defense, and 80% in other departments. That would not be enough on it's own, but it would be a start. Insert irrelevant screams of rage here from so many interests whose gravy train has derailed. Then ignore them.

I would submit that every one who supported the neo-cons in their megalomania is guilty of treason, as they have directly contributed to the ruin of the nation they claim to love so much.

In exactly the same way those who claimed that Wall St had to be bailed out at any cost, or the economy would 'collapse'.

The longer all denial of reality continues in Washington, the deeper the hole becomes. They have not stopped digging yet. Obama's "Deficit Reduction" Commission is a farce.

Links to explain the problem can be provided.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

July 2020

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31  
Blog powered by Typepad