Posts tagged with: debt

Contrary to current policy, this is not reality.

Last Saturday The Imaginative Conservative published my essay, “Let’s Get Back to Robbing Peter: The Welfare State and Demographic Decline.”

To add to what I say there, it should be a far more pressing concern to conscientious citizens that the US national debt has risen from $13 trillion in 2010 to nearly $18 trillion today. That is an increase of $5 trillion in just four years, or a nearly 40 percent increase. It is becoming more and more clear that, at our current rate, our nation’s entitlement programs represent the injustice that people today feel entitled to spend the tax dollars of tomorrow on benefits that we cannot realistically continue to afford. John Barnes wrote in 2010 that “the total value of all debt and unfunded promises made by the U.S. government is $61.9 trillion over the next 75 years.” I don’t know how much that figure has changed in the last four years, but I doubt it has shrunk, to put it lightly.

As any student of the Old Testament should know, God is very concerned about each generation leaving a proper inheritance to the next (cf. Numbers 27:8-11). No doubt many readers in their private lives have made provisions for their children after they pass. But as a nation, we are doing the reverse: paying for our provision today with the resources of tomorrow.

I write,

The German economist Wilhelm Röpke, commenting on the expansion of European welfare states in 1958, wrote, “To let someone else foot the bill is, in fact, the general characteristic of the welfare state and, on closer inspection, its very essence.” While he did not argue that, therefore, such state assistance should in all cases be stopped, he put the question in sober terms: “[T]he welfare state is an evil the same as each and every restriction of freedom. The only question on which opinions may still differ is whether and to what extent it is a necessary evil.”

In the interest of carrying on that same sobriety of analysis, I believe the picture is far bleaker today. Röpke, in the title to the essay quoted, characterized the welfare state as “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” But Sts. Peter and Paul were contemporaries. If only we would simply rob our peers! Then we could have a lively discussion regarding “whether and to what extent” such robbery is “a necessary evil.” Instead, it is our children and grandchildren who must “foot the bill.” Yet on our current course, when the time comes to pay up there will be much less welfare available to them.

Read more . . . .

AHB with tank.jpgThe Great War began 100 years ago last week.

From an economic perspective (from Pulitzer Prize economist Liaquat Ahamed) the European nations paid for WWI not with taxes, but with massive debts financed largely by America. The warring nations could not pay their way out of debt so many resorted to the easier route: inflation. But that inflation destroyed the savings of the middle class and that did not make European nations more stable.

Germany finally defaulted on its war debts after the 1929 crash. The international financial system also collapsed. Of course, German people listened to Hitler’s ideas about blame and solutions, while France, half destroyed by the war, looked at Germany (where few battles were fought) and wanted the Germans to pay for that destruction. The Depression made each nation more economically isolated which added to the misery as trade shrank. Europe was ripe for WWII.

WWI could be taken as a lesson on the perils of excessive debt. Governments have discovered three nasty advantages:

  1. They can borrow beyond emergencies (war) to pay for anything.
  2. Government pensions (more debt) are excellent ways to buy votes with the vague idea that ‘future growth’ or ‘future generations’ will easily cover the massive pension obligations.
  3. Governments have more recently seen that they can lower interest rates and ‘print money’ without being held accountable as they will be bailed out by other countries through central banks which will do, as Mario Draghi famously said, “whatever it takes.” These financial gimmicks look like serious plans because the men wear suits and because their ideas work, at least until the office holders retire.

However, as with WWI debt and the Crash of 1929, a severe crisis will come and prove that these leaders (while possibly not as incompetent or corrupt as the political leaders of Detroit) were wrong.

bankruptcyThe Bible has a lot to say about the principles behind bankruptcy law, says T. Kyle Bryant. In the Old Testament, God gave Moses various laws concerning the poor, lenders, borrowers, and debt forgiveness.

From these passages, we get a glimpse of how God makes provision for people who cannot pay their debt after a certain number of years. Beside discouraging lenders from making “bad” loans (ones that could not be repaid in seven years), the law prevented overwhelming debt from ruining a person’s life forever. In this way, God’s law provided for a type of bankruptcy protection every seven years (and every 50 years for land).

The United States bankruptcy scheme is complex, but the similarities between it and the biblical system are striking. Both systems served to protect the relatively powerless consumers and give predictability and stability to the creditors. For example, in the Israelite law, debtors could be released from their debts every seven years—no matter the amount of the debt, it was gone. This prevented common debtors from having to sell themselves into slavery in perpetuity to pay for their debts. On the other hand, it gave a stable and predictable risk profile to creditors seeking repayment of those debts. Lenders could temper their desire to make risky loans with the knowledge that any chance of repayment after the seventh year was uncertain.

In a similar way, the Bankruptcy Code allows a person freedom from their debt every eight years. Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code governs (in large part) individual debtors and the discharge of a person’s debt. If someone has received a discharge of their debt under Chapter 7, they must wait eight years before they can file for bankruptcy again. This echoes the biblical pattern of debt being wiped away every seven years. (But whether this tempers creditors’ risky lending practices is another question).

Read more . . .

The massive federal student loan program is creating a gargantuan higher education bubble and unsustainable levels of student loan debt, but at least all that borrowed money is going primarily to educate people, right? Apparently not. Yahoo Finance reports on yet another way that the nanny state is creating moral hazard and impoverishing the culture:

A number of factors are behind the growth in student debt. The soft jobs recovery and the emphasis on education have driven people to attain more schooling. But borrowing thousands in low-rate student loans—which cover tuition, textbooks and a vague category known as living expenses, a figure determined by each individual school—also can be easier than getting a bank loan. The government performs no credit checks for most student loans.

College officials and federal watchdogs can’t say exactly how much of the U.S.’s swelling $1.1 trillion in student-loan debt has gone to living expenses. But data and government reports indicate the phenomenon is real. The Education Department’s inspector general warned last month that the rise of online education has led more students to borrow excessively for personal expenses. Its report said that among online programs at eight universities and colleges, non-education expenses such as rent, transportation and “miscellaneous” items made up more than half the costs covered by student aid. (more…)

250px-Bankruptcy_monopolyAaron M. Renn’s reflections on the implications of Detroit’s bankruptcy are worth reading, especially as relate to the DIA, a topic of some previous interest over the last year or so:

In the case of the DIA, the city owns the museum and the collection. Hence the question of whether or not art should be sold to satisfy debts. If it were typical separately chartered non-profit institution, this wouldn’t even be a question.

At this point, I’d suggest cities ought to be taking a hard look at whether they own assets like museums, zoos, etc. that should be spun off into a separate non-profit entity. Keep in mind, the tax dollars that support the institutions can continue flowing to it. But this does protect the assets in the event of a bankruptcy.

I think Renn’s advice is spot on, but I would also caution that Detroit’s experience might not be replicable elsewhere. As DIA director Graham Beal put it previously, the DIA’s dilemma is “singular and highly complicated.”

How many cities own art collections worth potentially billions of dollars? Not too many, I’d suspect. And just what would the motivation be for city governments to reduce assets that could be leveraged in bankruptcy negotiations? What is in the best interest of the institution may not be in the interests of the city government and pensioners.

The DIA might be something like Detroit’s “Get out of Bankruptcy Free” card. (Or if not “free,” then less scathed than otherwise. And that’s not counting the loss of cultural treasures, of course!) But even so it’s a card that can only be played once, and it’s a card that other cities might not have.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
By

Most commentators, apart from Virginia Postrel and the like, seem to think that it would be tragic for the city of Detroit to lose the art collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in the city’s bankruptcy proceedings. I agree that liquidating or “monetizing” the collection and shipping the works off to parts unknown like the spare pieces on a totaled car would be tragic.

Diego Rivera - Detroit Industry MuralsBut at the same time, there’s something about the relationship between the DIA collection and the city government (not to be confused with the people of the city itself) that would seem to warrant the city government’s loss of this asset. When you are a bad steward, even what little you have will be taken from you.

Now one could argue about the details of the DIA’s day-to-day operations, the compensation package for its director, and so on. But apart from these details of stewardship of the DIA itself, the real object lesson in bad stewardship has to do with the city government. Rife with structural corruption, cronyism, and incompetence, the city has been unable to provide the basic services and protection that it is responsible for, despite the best efforts of so many individuals working within the city government. So when the city cannot do the primary things it needs to do, it should lose the privilege of overseeing the secondary things, at the very least until it proves itself to be a responsible steward.
(more…)

noun_project_19538As the US federal government sidled up to the debt ceiling earlier this week without quite running into it, one of the key arguments in favor of raising the debt ceiling was that it is immoral to breach a contract. The federal government has creditors, both from whom it has borrowed money and to whom it has promised transfer payments, and it has an obligation to fulfill those promises.

As Joe Carter argued here, “Member of Congress who are refusing to raise the debt ceiling (or raise taxes) until their ancillary demands are met are acting immorally, since they are refusing to pay the debts they themselves authorized.”

But as Connie Cass writes, the idea that the United States has never defaulted isn’t quite true. As she writes,

America has briefly stiffed some of its creditors on at least two occasions.

Once, the young nation had a dramatic excuse: The Treasury was empty, the White House and Capitol were charred ruins, even the troops fighting the War of 1812 weren’t getting paid.

A second time, in 1979, was a back-office glitch that ended up costing taxpayers billions of dollars. The Treasury Department blamed the mishap on a crush of paperwork partly caused by lawmakers who — this will sound familiar — bickered too long before raising the nation’s debt limit.

So if it is immoral to default, then America has done so at least twice.
(more…)

Shutdown DealThe U.S. government shutdown ended last night with a budget agreement that raises the debt limit, funding the government until February.  Acton director of research, Samuel Gregg, addressed this in a new post at Aleteia. He says:

Once again, I’m afraid, the United States Congress and the Administration has opted to live in un-truth by denying the dire fiscal realities facing America. Since August 2012, the total public debt of the United States has increased from $16,015 trillion to $16,747 trillion. And in the meantime, the size of the federal government also continues to grow. How much more debt do our political masters think Americans want? How much bigger do some of them think the federal government should be? Is there any upper limit in their mind?

But it isn’t just a question of the failure of legislators and government officials. There are, it seems, a good number of American citizens who simply don’t care about fiscal responsibility, not to mention plenty of businesses that prefer corporate welfare rather than actually competing in the marketplace.

In Gregg’s newest book, Tea Party Catholic, he says that governments and individuals running up high levels of debt may be dealing with a “deeper moral disorder.” He quotes Benedict XVI who said that living off of debt is “living in untruth.” (more…)

636_debt_ceiling_0When it comes to political policy, Christians in America have a wide-range of opinions about what should be done. Even when we agree on a general principle, we tend to disagree about how that informs our policy choices. We recognize, for instance, that we have an obligation to care for the poor but differ on the type and degree of government involvement.

Such differences can lead us to believe that there is nothing we can agree on. But I don’t believe that is true. There are indeed some issues that all Bible-believing Christians should be able to agree on.

One such area of potential agreement is paying debts. The Bible is clear that believers are to pay what we owe. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed . . .” (Romans 13:7). Similarly, the Psalmist warns that, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back . . .” (Psalm 37:21). And Proverbs tells us, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it”—when you have it with you.” (Proverbs 3:27-28).

The Bible is clear that when an individual incurs a debt they are required, to the best of their ability, to pay what they owe. But does this same principle apply to governments?
(more…)

Blog author: johnteevan
Monday, October 7, 2013
By

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

This first appeared in my newsletter, Economic Prospect, in late 2008. Looking back after five years I still like it.

The American failure to save is matched by our insistence on spending to have it all. One part of the problem is the consumer’s love of debt. The other part is the government’s love of debt. Both love debt to enjoy things now and to put off the day of reckoning. How did we get so far from the idea of being content with having enough food, clothing, and shelter?

  1. This is a complex issue based at first in ‘scarcity’ which leads people to create products to fill real needs. When these products are produced people have jobs and can afford more products. Say’s Law says that production creates its own demand.
  2. There comes a point where we move beyond some invisible line and marketing takes over to create imagined needs in people. These needs are filled by more products creating more jobs. This happened after WW2 and made us very prosperous.
  3. Then there is a third stage when the credit industry takes over and tries to convince people to borrow not just for houses or cars (durables) but for anything to enhance their way of life. This started in the 1970s. Consumer debt is $2 trillion but this kind of borrowing creates still more jobs at least for as long as the party lasts.

But the day of reckoning has arrived. Will we get the point and change our behavior? Apparently not. First, the government sold bonds, then raided the trust funds (Social Security), then we borrow to stimulate the economy…then we just borrow without limit.

If Americans are not saving, who will loan us all this money? The answer is the Chinese and Asians who are amazing savers. They will loan us the money. China already owns nearly $2 trillion in U.S. government bonds. This is not a small issue.

Economics in One Lesson : The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics

Economics in One Lesson : The Shortest and Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics

This classic work provides the layman with a clear understanding of the economic way of thinking. A must-read for the beginner!