In a recent New York Times Op-Ed entitled “Till Debt Does Its Part,” Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman rebuffs those few reactionary souls who argue that all this debt we are incurring is a bad thing. He assures us,
…don’t fret about this year’s deficit; we actually need to run up federal debt right now and need to keep doing it until the economy is on a solid path to recovery. And the extra debt should be manageable. If we face a potential problem, it’s not because the economy can’t handle the extra debt. Instead, it’s the politics, stupid.
Sometimes you really have to wonder what the standards are for winning a Nobel Prize. We have an economy built on consumer debt which relative to disposable income increased from a low in 1945 to its peak in 2007. As the Daily Reckoning further notes, we have $20 trillion in excess debt to work through over the coming years. Yet while on the private side, we need to pay for our sins, liquidate our debts, allow malinvestments to go belly up and start over on more solid fiscal ground, apparently the public sector can just keep on trucking.
As the sage Mr. Krugman notes,
Right now deficits are actually helping the economy. In fact, deficits here and in other major economies saved the world from a much deeper slump. The longer-term outlook is worrying, but it’s not catastrophic. The only real reason for concern is political. The United States can deal with its debts if politicians of both parties are, in the end, willing to show at least a bit of maturity. Need I say more?
Explain this to me exactly. When are deficits a help to an economy in distress? If the whole reason we are in economic distress is because of a glut of debt, then why is the answer to pour more gasoline on the fire? Any company that still functions in any semblance of a free market knows that if it can’t service its debt, it will be forced to make difficult decisions, potentially opting for bankruptcy. It cannot continually slop at the trough of the debt market.
But Krugman seems to think that the government can have its cake and eat it too. Where a sober person might argue that in hard times, a government must tighten its belt, like a business or a man, Krugman seems to think that incurring more and more debt, in essence stretching out the inevitable painful liquidation whilst creating another debt/currency crisis down the road is better. Why have one financial crisis when you can have two or three stretched out over a longer period of time? You get the sense that Krugman’s agenda is more political than economic sometimes.
Which brings me to my next point. Krugman believes the only reason for concern over the debt is “political.” Proud of this claim, Krugman states, “Need I say more?” Well yes, I think you need do so. Our currency, and the debts run up by our government denominated in our currency are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government; which is to say our money and debt are backed by our economy, our people. If we are in for a prolonged period of negative private sector growth, high unemployment and increased intervention in all aspects of life, especially our economy, how can Krugman make the assumption that the ability to continue adding to our debt solely rests on the “maturity” of the politicians? Can Barney Frank snap his fingers and suddenly make the world buy our paper?
If the politicians wish to be “mature” they can remove themselves from the private sector, slash spending and taxes, let whole swaths of industry go belly up and allow people to foreclose on their homes and pay off their debts. Alternatively, if the politicians wish to be immature, they can do so through intervention and coercion.
Krugman as one might expect opts for the latter, immature route. Mind-numbingly, he proclaims:
If governments had raised taxes or slashed spending in the face of the slump, if they had refused to rescue distressed financial institutions, we could all too easily have seen a full replay of the Great Depression.
As I said, deficits saved the world.
In fact, we would be better off if governments were willing to run even larger deficits over the next year or two. The official White House forecast shows a nation stuck in purgatory for a prolonged period, with high unemployment persisting for years. If that’s at all correct — and I fear that it will be — we should be doing more, not less, to support the economy.
Krugman, going along with his Keynesian (read socialists) brethren, forgets about the failures of all of the interventionism even before his idol FDR ever got into power during the Depression, in addition to the disastrous results of similar policies (which he of course advocated) over the last two decades in Japan. These frauds continue to peddle the same illogical government gobbledygook that prolonged the Depression, all the way to “cash for clunkers”, the modern day equivalent of FDR’s forced killing of crops and slaughtering of pigs.
Mr. Krugman seems to think that interventionism is what saves economies. Might I ask then, why not intervene from the start? If the state is so good at managing crises, why not let it manage all industry in good times as well? Is the free market only sufficient when the Dow is rising? And if deficits are the cure-all, then why do nations ever default on their debt? Why is Zimbabwe the way Zimbabwe is? Could it be that perhaps the central planners are not so divine after all?
To be fair, Krugman, digressing notes:
But what about all that debt we’re incurring? That’s a bad thing, but it’s important to have some perspective. Economists normally assess the sustainability of debt by looking at the ratio of debt to G.D.P. And while $9 trillion is a huge sum, we also have a huge economy, which means that things aren’t as scary as you might thinkHere’s one way to look at it: We’re looking at a rise in the debt/G.D.P. ratio of about 40 percentage points. The real interest on that additional debt (you want to subtract off inflation) will probably be around 1 percent of G.D.P., or 5 percent of federal revenue. That doesn’t sound like an overwhelming burden.
Even though all this debt we’re adding on might not actually be so great, we have a huge economy. Ah, the panacea of the huge (albeit shrinking) economy – an economy based on consumption, services and debt, the hallmarks of any economic powerhouse. He also argues that a rise in debt/GDP of 40% is OK, since this debt will only be 5% of federal revenue, which doesn’t sound so overwhelming. So essentially, because it’s only 5% of a massively-sized federal government which will have ever-decreasing tax revenues necessitating continued debt financing (to pay for more boondoggles), we should be OK to pay off our debt (with devalued dollars I suppose?).
What might our lenders think about that? Krugman has an answer for this too.
Now, this assumes that the U.S. government’s credit will remain good so that it’s able to borrow at relatively low interest rates. So far, that’s still true. Despite the prospect of big deficits, the government is able to borrow money long term at an interest rate of less than 3.5 percent, which is low by historical standards. People making bets with real money don’t seem to be worried about U.S. solvency.
I would challenge the assumption that the US government’s credit will remain good. As Krugman notes, our debt/GDP is going to rise significantly, “The official White House forecast shows a nation stuck in purgatory for a prolonged period, with high unemployment persisting for years,” and as I mentioned government is intervening in the economy on an unprecedented scale, but relax, our friends in the Far East will continue to bankroll us. Krugman should take a page from Milton Friedman’s playbook (along with those of Hayek, von Mises and Bastiat) and remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch. All government can do for “revenue,” is directly tax, or indirectly tax through issuing debt (taxing future generations and/or devaluing the currency) or printing money.
While Krugman argues that the people “making bets” don’t seem worried about our solvency, as numerous publications have noted, the Chinese are buying less treasuries and stockpiling commodities (however short-lived the Times may think it will be), indicating that they are diversifying out of dollar-denominated assets. Meanwhile, the government has had to take the drastic measure of purchasing its own Treasuries, with the Fed committing to buy $300bn in notes (i.e. printing $300bn) and also monetizing the debt more discretely. In other words, the government has had to keep its own borrowing costs down artificially, making up for the lack of demand of its primary dealers by bidding for its own debt. But look at the YTD yield curve for the 10-Year Treasury, and tell me that the markets aren’t reacting at all to our fiscal recklessness:
Moreover, just because rates haven’t spiked by 500bps in the last year, does that mean that market participants really aren’t scared about our solvency? Markets can stay irrational for long periods of time, just look at the housing bubble or any of the other bubbles which after the fact have seemed so obvious. Further, I would argue that creditors like China are being perfectly rational. The Chinese are trying to shift their money towards assets with real tangible value like commodities, while doing as little as possible to spook the government debt markets, because doing so would hurt the value of their own paper. If they flooded the markets with Treasuries, all of their dollar-denominated assets would plummet in price. It’s not in their interest for there to be a run on the US government yet. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t slowly but surely make their exit from US paper assets, leading to higher borrowing costs for our government and less confidence in our dollar. As I mentioned, there is no free lunch.
Krugman notes that other governments that have practiced similar profligacy like Belgium and Italy never faced financial crises in the early 1990s, but there are obvious notable differences. We are the biggest economy in the world. We were the most prosperous one. We have the world’s reserve currency. We are not accustomed to the kind of fiscal stagnancy faced in Europe. I just do not see that Krugman’s comparisons hold water. A more apt comparison in my eyes would be the US versus the British Empire circa its collapse.
Regardless, I want to return to the fundamental point that going into more debt to solve a problem caused by too much debt makes no sense. One might argue that sometimes debt can be beneficial and not cause long term harm. One might cry that parents are right to take out a mortgage on a house to raise their children. If the family can reasonably expect to generate the cash flows to retire this debt over time, then this will certainly be fine. But the US is like one giant family of drug-addled deadbeats looking to buy a mansion in the Hamptons, having already foreclosed on its subprime mortgage, maxed out all of its credit cards and traded in its Rolexes to the local pawn shop. And its only cash flows are those it can obtain by plundering its citizenry.
Debt is OK if you can reasonably expect to pay it off. To incur even greater debt in the face of debt that you will already be unable to service is downright immoral and will lead to severe consequences for the people.
These deficits in and of themselves are also not productive. They represent a stealing of wealth from future generations. As I mentioned, the only way to pay down the debt will be to tax future Americans, either directly or indirectly through inflating the money supply and thus devaluing the currency. Further, regarding what the debts are actually being used to finance, as I have argued in accordance with sound Austrian economics, the deficit spending for bailing out failing ventures stops the market from naturally adjusting, and leads to less productive if not downright destructive “jobs,” and labor being diverted from the private sector.
So in some respects again, Krugman is right that our politicians need to be mature. But the people get the government they deserve, and as of yet though there have been some bright signs, the majority of people don’t seem to want to deal with the pain that mature servants would bring them today for a brighter tomorrow.
It is worth noting that in Krugman’s delusion, he actually makes a redeeming comment:
Over the really long term, however, the U.S. government will have big problems unless it makes some major changes. In particular, it has to rein in the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending.
He actually has me for a second, until the subsequent stanzas:
That shouldn’t be hard in the context of overall health care reform. After all, America spends far more on health care than other advanced countries, without better results, so we should be able to make our system more cost-efficient.
But that won’t happen, of course, if even the most modest attempts to improve the system are successfully demagogued — by conservatives! — as efforts to “pull the plug on grandma.”
Keep it classy, Paul.
1. Van Jones – Continuing in the line of moderate, sane czars prudently chosen by President Obama, we have this man:
It’s not as if Obama just surrounds himself with lefties. He goes for the most radical, vitriolic and just plain batty people. There is no real oversight over these aptly named czars, and this extra layer of government allows Obama free rein over the system of checks and balances. It is very telling that the people in our government who he has sole power to pick are the craziest and most destructive.
2. A White House report shows that H1N1 may kill 90,000 – I’m going to come out out right now and say that I don’t know how exactly the White House is going to play this, or what tactics they are going to use, but they are going to try to use this virus as a crisis to increase federal power. They can use it to sell national healthcare, or they can intervene with the states’ handling of an outbreak, or try something far more nefarious like using the flu to declare martial law and subvert our liberties. Right now, they are just releasing these reports to pave the way for increased intervention down the road.
3. NY AFL-CIO head named chairman of the NY Fed – I couldn’t believe this the first time I read it, but then again when you look at the big picture this makes perfect sense. The banking cartel needed to make amends for having their political brethren in important government positions. Labor is gaining inordinate power under the Obama administration and are probably the constituency that he is most banking on for his re-election in 2012. This move follows the strategy of the politicians to a tee – the government will do whatever it takes to bail out the moneyed interests and the union laborer’s interests, while screwing everyone else in-between. They bribe the moneyed interests to keep them paying the taxes to subsidize the poor. They bribe labor at the expense of the real capitalists and entrepreneurs who create labor’s jobs. The middle class and those who create the prosperity around us pay the price.
4. Eric Holder will pursue CIA interrogators – “Holder said that he realizes the move is controversial, but that it was the only responsible course to take. The decision does not reflect a sharp division between the Justice Department and the White House, government officials said, given the limits of the preliminary review and the respect that Obama says he maintains for the role of an independent attorney general.” I mean wow. First, what brilliant politics by Obama. He allows Holder to go after prosecuting members of the CIA because of the role of the “independent attorney general,” so he gets what he probably wanted all along but can always tell the critics that he is merely allowing for the proper separation of powers. Second, WTF is wrong with you Eric Holder. You go after the people that are doing their job to defend our country ex post, threatening the CIA and deterring anyone from ever joining the agency from this point forward, yet fail to go after members of the Black Panthers threatening to bludgeon people at the voting booths.
5. Obama on the Vineyard – The President always seems to come up smelling like roses. While the world goes to hell, and his party is taking bullets at townhalls (sometimes arguing that they should use bullets themselves), Mr. Obama gets to hit the links and sip on cocktails. Now I have absolutely no problem with President’s taking vacations (though it is garbage that they use taxpayer dollars to do so), as I understand that a “vacation” for a President is hardly a real vacation, and that their job is highly stressful all the time. That being said, imagine if a Republican President during a time like this when the country is running $9 trillion deficits over the next ten years (Barry’s guys were $2 trillion off on the math there mind you) and unemployment numbers are high decided to head to a ranch in Crawford or worse some lush pad out in Orange Country for some R&R. The media would be up in arms. But it seems that hypocrisy is the way of the world today. At least Obama should have the courtesy to invite some of his poor community organizing friends out to the 29-acre estate.
“Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” – Frederic Bastiat
Pundits, pontificators and plebeians all have polarized around the issue of national healthcare. Many have spoken wisely on the pros and cons of the proposed system, a heartening fact given the relative deafening silence when it came to the other government boondoggles of the last few years (really the last hundred to be exact). At the heart of the matter is a debate fundamental to our liberty that the public has failed to have. This regards the broader ramifications of a government-granted right to health.
Aristotle said that man seeks pleasure while avoiding pain. Healthcare is a means to prevent physical pain, and thus I would argue secure pleasure. However, a need for healthcare is dictated by one’s physical condition. One’s physical condition is attributable to a variety of factors. First, there is the question of diet. Then, there are one’s living conditions, namely shelter and clothing. Surely there is a psychosomatic factor as well. Finally of course, there is the question of one’s physical activity level.
If we are to allow healthcare to fall under the purview of government, then certainly it must follow that all things that contribute to one’s health must also be regulated by the government.
Thus, necessarily each and every citizen will have a responsibility to provide ample food, sufficient shelter and clean clothing for each and every other citizen. Likewise, it should follow that the types of food be regulated to ensure an optimal diet, and the shelter and clothing be comfortable enough and of high enough quality to meet government standards. Since one needs a stable living environment, should not the government also have a say as to how children are raised within their homes? Naturally one’s mental health might also be tied to access to diversions, so should not all entertainment such as the arts, film and sports also be government-controlled and taxpayer-subsidized? Should not exercise be mandated, with government-run physical fitness centers for all? What scares me most is that in writing this list, government already controls many of these things in one way or another.
Naturally, a government-run system of healthcare will lead to arbitrary, whimsical intrusions into our daily lives. Who is to set the bounds as to what constitutes proper controls to make the system “competitive” and “affordable,” when the Ezekiel Emanuel’s of the world will influence the system?
Much like the Necessary and Proper Clause, nationalized healthcare will serve as a Trojan horse; it will lead to the greatest infringement on our natural rights of all, infringement on our lives. You’d think the state would already be satisfied having devoured our liberty and property (pursuit of happiness if you prefer), but always hungry for more power, under this system it will get personal.
Perhaps scarier than the details of this system, devilish as they may be is the principle that from the first day we spend on this Earth, given a right to health for all, our responsibility will be to provide for our fellow man, valuing the community above ourselves. If one were to choose to dedicate one’s life to supporting others, of one’s own volition, than this would be fine. The merits of sacrifice for others are numerous and in many cases commendable. However, under a national healthcare system, because of a handful of politicians, we will be forced from day one to work to support everyone else, because the state says so. In the end, we will all be enslaved to each other. Our common lot will be one of misery.
Call me selfish. Call me greedy. Call me immoral. I value my life above yours, insofar as the Leviathan is forcing me to subsidize your eating habits, drinking habits, smoking habits mental health and genetic predisposition. I do not want to be forced to pay for your healthcare by government decree, nor should I. The Founders guarantees my right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To presuppose that the collectives’ right supersedes my own destroys these very rights. It ensures pain for all and pleasure for none.
I leave you with some prescient words from Grover Cleveland – the last respectable Democrat – regarding his reasoning for rejection of an act to appropriate federal funds for drought-stricken Texas farmers. He declared:
The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of the kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.