Our National Ponzi Scheme

me_1114Doctor Doom, Nourielle Roubini, an economist and professor at NYU, always manages to turn an interesting phrase when making his trademark pessimistic forecasts. He’s really done it this week in Forbes.

I wrote about the Federal deficit last week and covered the major points of why we are on an unsustainable path for our taxes and spending and when that could be a problem. The Obama administration continues to revise its spending and deficit estimates upward as an act of surprise over how deep the recession has been. I’ve raised a Spock-like eyebrow over that and have been lighting candles on my alter to the wisdom beings that, hopefully, the White House will get more real. Well, nothing makes things more real than a splash of freezing water in the face while sipping the first cup of the day’s coffee. Roubini is his fully alarmed self. He basically accuses our political class of running one big Ponzi Scheme and we are the suckers.

The fiscal implications of the current policy package are particularly serious. For the time being, fiscal policy has been put at the service of survival, but the current price of survival is that net public debt is going to double as a share of GDP between 2008 and 2014. Even using the very optimistic forecasts of the Congressional Budget Office, which anticipate growth of around 4% over the next few years, the net debt burden will rise from 40% of GDP to 80%–that’s an increase in the debt stock of about $9 trillion. The interest charge alone on that increased debt will be in the region of $300 billion to $400 billion a year, which in turn may mean more borrowing to pay the interest if primary deficits are not reduced. When governments reach the point where they are borrowing to pay the interest on their borrowing they are coming dangerously close to running a sovereign Ponzi scheme.

Ponzi schemes have a way of ending unhappily. To get out of the Ponzi trap, governments will have to raise taxes, or cut spending, or monetize the debt–or most likely do some combination of all three.

Wow! If those estimates are right, just about every one with hands on the budget from the last 4 congresses to the last two Presidents should be in the jail cell next to Bernie Madoff. The information coming from the CBO is really what started ringing the death knell for health reform last spring. It should be completely obvious to any one that has followed the last stimulus package, what currently passes for ‘health care reform’, the escalation of ongoing wars, the Bush medicare pharmaceutical giveaway, bail-out bonanzas, and all those Bush tax cuts from the beginning of his term, that our fiscal policy actions need to be renamed nails in our collective coffin. We simply have to re-arrange our priorities or we will be assigned to the rubbish heap of failed empires. I can’t even image the People’s Republic (our banker) even relishes that outcome. I really, at this point, am incapable of optimism that any of this will be turned around in time. We continue to elect leaders that are either completely out of touch with reality or don’t care about it. We have VooDoo Government.

If Dick Cheney’s evil plan was to bankrupt the Federal Government, it’s working.

Read the rest of this entry »