Thursday, March 26, 2009

Economic Suicide

I never thought I'd be praising an article by an American Enterprise Institute fellow, but this one by Desmond Lachmond is outstandingly perceptive. (They have all too often been ideological and partisan.) I think he makes a strong case that we are in danger of becoming an economic 'emerging market'. Lachmond seems like someone who, in his later years, has finally seen the light and now has the courage to tell it like it is. May his tribe increase!


A singular characteristic of an emerging market heading for deep trouble is a seemingly suicidal tendency to become overly indebted to foreign creditors. That tendency underlay the spectacular collapse of the Thai, Indonesian and Korean currencies in 1997. It also led Russia to default on its debt in 1998 and plunged Argentina into its economic depression in 2001. Yet we too seem to have little difficulty becoming increasingly indebted to the tune of a few hundred billion dollars a year. To make matters worse, we do so to countries like China, Russia and an assortment of Middle Eastern oil producers -- none of which is particularly well disposed to us.

Like Argentina in its worst moments, we never seem to question whether it is reasonable to expect foreigners to keep financing our extravagance, and we forget the bad things that happen to the Argentinas or Hungarys of the world when foreigners stop financing their excesses. So instead of laying out a realistic plan for increasing our national savings, we choose not to face up to the Social Security and Medicare crises that lie ahead, embarking instead on massive spending programs that -- whatever their long-run merits might be -- we simply cannot afford.

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