As you know, S&P downgraded the US' credit rating to AA+ last month. That's still a lot better than most countries in this financially shaky world. But as long ago as July 2010 Dagong, a credit rating agency working for America's biggest foreign creditor, China, rated the US "AA with a negative outlook".
Here are a few graphs to tell the story of US public debt, and the cost of paying the interest on it as a proportion of gross Federal tax collections:
That is greatly influenced by the long-term decline in interest rates:
For the period up to and including fiscal year 2000, the average rate on public debt was slightly over 7%, and has been reducing since the recession of the early 1990s in order to stimulate (and then rescue) the economy.
Now let's look at what interest would have been payable in dollar terms, if the rate had been (say) 7% throughout:
Had that 7% rate been applied throughout, this is what it would have taken out of the gross tax collections:
That is the big worry, and why I don't doubt that there's a lot of collusion and fudging going on behind the scenes.
But that doesn't make me a Tea Partier. This is not a story about wicked old government and how we'd be better off without it altogether.
The reason why debt has become particularly dangerous over the last couple of years, is that Uncle Sam has been trying to save our bacon. Perhaps he's done it in the wrong way, and should have let gambler banks go down - you have so many more second tier banks to take over, unlike here in the UK. Maybe it's not too late to for the US to do that, in a controlled way, even now.
And yes, we all need to look at social benefits, though again I'm not with the let-the poor-starve party. For example, we might just possibly question the profits of pharmaceutical companies (with their endless me-too variants on perfectly good drugs that are coming out of copyright); the profits and contractual get-out weaselling of insurance companies; the battening of lawyers on the medical system; the training costs and remuneration of the medical profession. There is more than one way to trim the fat, apart from abandoning US citizens to bankruptcy, ill-health and premature death. Can we please get away from an Orwellian Animal-Farm-style slogan-bleating of "private good, public baaad"?
I do have an issue with both the US and UK governments, not about their power and control but the exact reverse: their failure to moderate the growth of private debt over the last 30 and more years. Counterintuitively (if you think the Right is responsible with money), it was under President Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that total debt to GDP soared, as I discuss at length in a previous post here, and most of that was private debt. Fighting one foe, they failed to notice the manoeuvering of another, namely the psychopathic greed of the financial industry whose aid they requested.
I am reminded how Ireland's freedom was lost because the King of Leinster invited the Normans to assist him in recovering his throne in Wexford, in 1169. Guinness-drinking Irish sentimentalists may lament "the Saxon foe across the water", but their real enemy was the bloodthirsty, land-hungry, Viking-descended Norman, and King Dermot MacMurrough, who let him in.
Both public and private sectors are due for reform.
INVESTMENT DISCLOSURE: None. Still in cash (and index-linked National Savings Certificates), and missing all those day-trading opportunities.
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