...the USA now has more financial obligations than assets. It is, effectively, broke. Nevertheless, the debit side of its ledgers grow heavier and heavier. This year’s US government deficit will add about half a trillion. The US trade deficit is about $700 billion. The U.S. bailout plan will probably cost at least $1 trillion more.
Where will the government get that kind of money? There are only two possibilities – one honest and depressing, the other corrupt and alarming. Whether it borrows the money, or prints it up, the world enjoys no net increase in financial resources. Borrowing takes resources from projects that might have been worthwhile and diverts them to the losers. Interest rates rise, as a consequence of the extra borrowing; higher rates generally worsen the economic picture. And while the U.S. borrows, long term, at almost 5%, it lends at barely 2%. It’s like a bank that has gotten its business model badly mixed up. The more it borrows and lends, the faster it goes broke.
If, on the other hand, it merely prints the money – or if it creates it “out of thin air,” to use Lord Keynes’ handy phrase – the results are even worse. Inflating the money supply with new currency, a la Argentina or Zimbabwe, wipes out debts. But it destroys faith in the dollar and brings down the whole world’s money system.
Sooner or later, this is just what will probably happen. Not because capitalism doesn’t work – but because it does. Capitalism is doing just what it should do – it is separating fools from their money. But the fools vote. After a big bubble, there are more fools than sages...and, in the United States of America, more debtors than creditors. Sooner or later, Americans will realize that they are better off destroying their own money than preserving it...and that they would prefer to stiff their creditors rather than pay their bills. That is when deflation will gives way to inflation...and the world’s post-’71 dollar-based money system comes to an end.
Friday, September 26, 2008
The Basics of American Debt
The always entertaining and insightful Bill Bonner writes in the Daily Reckoning about the long-term problem of American debt.