Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Director's Blog » Blog Archive » Federal Debt and the Risk of a Financial Crisis

Although deficits during or shortly after a recession generally hasten economic recovery, persistent deficits and continually mounting debt would have several negative economic consequences for the United States. Some of those consequences would arise gradually—but a high level of federal debt, combined with an unfavorable long-term budget outlook, would also increase the probability of a sudden fiscal crisis prompted by investors’ fears that the government would renege on the terms of its existing debt or that it would increase the supply of money to finance its activities or pay creditors and thereby boost inflation. The resulting abrupt rise in interest rates would create serious challenges for the U.S. government. For example, a 4-percentage-point across-the-board increase in interest rates would raise federal interest payments next year by about $100 billion; if those higher rates persisted, net interest costs in 2015 would be nearly double the roughly $460 billion that CBO currently projects for that year. Such an increase in rates could also precipitate a broader financial crisis because it would reduce the market value of outstanding government bonds, inflicting losses on mutual funds, pension funds, insurance companies, banks, and other holders of federal debt.

Options for responding to a fiscal crisis would be limited and unattractive. The government would need to undertake some combination of three actions. One action could be changing the terms of its existing debt. This would make it difficult and costly to borrow in the future. A second action could be adopting an inflationary monetary policy by increasing the supply of money. However, this approach would have negative consequences for both the economy and future budget deficits. A third action could be implementing an austerity program of spending cuts and tax increases. Such budgetary adjustments, in the face of a fiscal crisis, would be more drastic and painful than those that would have been necessary had the adjustments come sooner.

That's from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

There's really no need for hyperbole, since this prospect is scary enough. I do think it is important that most Americans at least become aware that this is a possibility, however likely or unlikely it is.

Posted via email from rhymeswithclown's posterous

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