Pretending debt doesn’t matter
The federal government’s years-long debt binge has left the country more than $28 trillion in the hole with no sign, from either major political party, that the borrowing will stop.
The U.S. isn’t alone in running up its debt. Other nations, great and small, are issuing debt at record levels, spending their nation’s savings today with no care about what happens when it’s all gone tomorrow:
Like flat-screen TVs, the more inexpensive government debt becomes, the bigger it gets. The U.S. has led the world with aggressive government borrowing to power recovery from the pandemic. Even before this year’s stimulus measures, the Congressional Budget Office projected that federal debt held by the public would reach 102% of GDP by the end of 2021, the highest level since just after World War II.
Economists at JPMorgan argue that even the U.S.’s energetic borrowing will barely make a dent in global gross savings, which are worth more than $25 trillion a year, according to the International Monetary Fund, and whose rise has depressed borrowing costs in recent decades.
“There’s something that saves the advanced economies from that pickup in debt we see, and it’s the low debt-servicing costs,” said Elena Duggar, associate managing director of credit strategy and research at Moody’s Investors Service.
That only works so long as interest rates remain artificially low. If they are allowed to rise, which would require central banks to cease their market-distorting interventions, then the era of easy debt will end…in tears.
When that comes, remember this quote:
“The world has changed. The intellectual frameworks have evolved,” said Paul Sheard, a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and former chief economist at credit-rating company S&P Global. “We don’t need to worry” about debt.
Chances are those words will not age well. There was an entire book written about such conceit following the global economic crack-up in 2008. It’s title “This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly.”