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The Ten Trillion Dollar Decade

Monday, April 14th, 2014

It’s Tax Day tomorrow. Waiting till the last moment to file because you’ll have to write a check?

It hurts, but you must be financially better off than the federal government, which itself owes $17.5 trillion, all because Congress and the President refuse to balance budgets.

In the last ten years, according to a convenient Department of Treasury website, the federal government’s debt has not merely doubled, it has ballooned … by more than $10 trillion.

During the Reagan Administration, we were aghast at the idea of a “mere” one trillion dollar debt. I remember “No Trillion Dollar Debt” signs.

Waving signs didn’t help.

But something’s gotta give. As J. D. Tuccille writes, “you have to think that it’s going to occur to people that the United States government seems neither willing nor able to stop borrowing, and to start paying the sum down, even a little bit.”

Debts must be repaid, with interest. That goes for the last decade’s additional ten trillion tonnage of “bricks” now hanging over our heads.

Writing your check to the government isn’t made any more pleasant by pondering how paltry your payment is compared to what’s needed to make a dent in the debt. Moreover, even amid constant talk about “cuts,” federal government spending continues to increase. Thus, getting out of debt is not about writing checks to government. It’s about government writing fewer and smaller checks.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Bankruptcy, Not Bailouts

Friday, February 1st, 2013

America’s bailout economy started many administrations ago, but really went Big Time under President George W. Bush . . . and then went Enormity Time with President Barack Obama.

The Washington Post provides the latest in bailout news by noting an inter-departmental squabble:

The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program said Treasury approved all 18 requests it received last year to raise pay for executives at American International Group Inc., General Motors Corp. and Ally Financial Inc. Of those requests, 14 were for $100,000 or more; the largest raise was $1 million.

Though this is all quite scandalous, don’t expect policies to change or heads to roll — barring a joint Tea Party/Occupy uprising. The nature of the modern “regulatory” state is clear: government bureaus are quickly captured by the industries they aim to regulate. It’s an old story. The revolving door between business and bureaucracy is as well-established as between journalism and politics.

So why do we have bailouts?

  1. They show that politicians are “doing something”;
  2. They mimic the welfare state logic of “helping the poor” (if, with caustic irony, by stuffing the wallets of the rich);
  3. They aggrandize the showy machinations of the legislative and executive branches at the expense of the branch of government designed to handle massive business failure, the courts.

Perhaps Americans shouldn’t have voted in either an MBA grad (Bush) or a constitutional lawyer (Obama). Maybe what the country needs is a bankruptcy lawyer in the White House.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Congress to Blame

Monday, August 8th, 2011

Last week, the budget deal, with its first consequence: the immediate increase of U.S. government debt, to outsize the Gross Domestic Product.

By week’s end, that notoriously rising debt was downgraded in the ratings.

Immediately, politicians began blaming each other.

In other words: No surprises.

Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Michele Bachmann both called for Timothy Geithner to resign. Sen. Paul argued that “Secretary Geithner assured everyone that raising the debt ceiling without a plan to balance the budget would not result in a downgrade to our debt. . . . He was clearly wrong. Our debt has been downgraded for the first time in history, and now American taxpayers will have to suffer the consequences.” Rep. Bachmann blamed the president first, then demanded Geithner’s walking papers.

Now, I hate to defend Geithner (he probably should resign), but the debt debacle is Congress’s fault.

But such niceties of responsibility didn’t stop from setting up a Facebook campaign to impugn the Tea Party, blaming the Tea Party’s cussedness for the downgrade.

Really? To focus only on the one political group actively trying to decrease the size of the debt demonstrates huge hunks of partisan chutzpah. By trying and failing to restrain spending, Tea Party folks only demonstrated Congress’s dedication to binge spending. The fault is in the binging, not in the feckless attempt at self-restraint.

Which is just what S & P considered: the company cited the wimpiness of the debt deal as the reason for the downgrade.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Big Government Bigger Than All Else

Friday, August 5th, 2011

No sooner had the president signed the new debt limit, and then up went federal debt — to $14.58 trillion.

Brave new world, that has such numbers in it.

What’s so amazing about this number is that it is larger than last year’s GDP of $14.53 trillion.

I know, Gross Domestic Product figures are a mess, and don’t measure exactly what we think they measure. But they are the most popular form of national income accounting, and indicate, in a very rough sense, “the size of the economy” for a given year.

And, boy, for our federal government to owe the amount of the whole economy it rules, and more — what a milestone!

The last time debt was more than GDP? The late 1940s.

Recovery happened swiftly, then. This should give us hope: There is a way out.

But remember: World War II didn’t bring us out of the Great Depression, the end of the war did.

And remember, further: Most of the big names in economics — by then, Keynesians all — had predicted a huge economic downturn as government spending plummeted and wartime regulations (chiefly wage and price controls) hit the dustbin.

Bad prediction. The economy soon took off.

Why? Less government spending, less regulation.

Alas, I don’t see that happening, today or tomorrow. With the budget deal, overall spending is now set to rise still further. The medical industry — a huge growth sector for government spending as well as private spending — is set for increasing regulation.

Brace yourself.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.