Oh, and By the Way...We're Broke
Soon, President Obama and Congress will agree to terms on raising the statutory debt limit, or the "debt ceiling." What will not be mentioned in the negotiations, however, is that the United States of America is bankrupt.
In a 2011 discussion about how spending cuts might impact jobs in the federal government, House Speaker John Boehner said, "If some of those jobs are to be lost in this, so be it. We're broke." Two years and one major credit downgrade later, the only thing that has changed is how much more broke we are.
As a nation, we're broke. Flat busted. Tapped out. The coffers are empty. We have no money. This chart shows America's debt trajectory relative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
In May 2012, the national debt started growing faster than GDP, which means we are borrowing at a faster rate than we produce. In The Great Reckoning, James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg warned that "debt cannot go on compounding faster than output forever." For America, the day of reckoning has come.
First, consider how far we have fallen: near the end of World War II, the United States accounted for one half of the world's Gross Domestic Product, we owned almost three quarters of the world's gold, we were the world's leading creditor at $3 billion, and we had a trade surplus of $5.8 billion.
Today, we're $17 trillion in the hole, no gold, and the trade surpluses are gone. America's share of GDP has dropped to 25%, while the United States borrows 46 cents for every dollar it spends. "Debt service is crowding out normal economic functioning," according to Paul Brodsky, co-founder and manager of QB Asset Management. "The economy is shrinking."
Individual Americans aren't doing much better than their collective government: a report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 57% of working-aged Americans have a meager $25,000 or less in total household savings (not including their home), while 47% of all Americans have less than $800 in savings. One in four Americans has zero or negative net worth.
By every basic, fundamental, fiscal, economic, and generally accepted accounting principle, the United States of America is bankrupt.
Our debt crisis is borne out of two fundamental factors: 1) the United States is the only nation on Earth that can borrow in its own currency, and 2) America's central bank (the Federal Reserve) basically sets interest rates on its own debt. This distorts fiscal reality by giving Congress the perception that it can keep borrowing endlessly, and funding its own deficits with more borrowed money.
Before the Federal Reserve was established, Congress voted on every new bond issue. There were debates on the House floor, and borrowing was heavily scrutinized. After the Fed, Congress simply gave up and green-lighted everything. The Treasury Department took over the terms, timing, and amount of debt issuance, leaving Americans little or no say in the matter.
The notion that the United States of America "always pays its bills on time" is the biggest economic lie in modern history. When a Treasury bond matures, the government sells another to pay it off. This is what "monetizing debt" means. It's like a retail consumer using a MasterCard to pay the Visa bill. Buyers of U.S. Treasuries are essentially funding a Ponzi scheme. Printing money to pay off debt is not paying off anything.
California Congressman Tom McClintock and Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey have proposed legislation that would require interest on the debt to take priority should the government run out of money, which Harry Reid impetuously called the "Pay China First Act." Senator Reid doesn't realize that the Chinese have been on to us for years now.
In February 2009, China Banking Regulatory Commission director-general Luo Ping expressed personal outrage at what has become the largest currency de-valuation in world history. "We hate you guys," he told reporters after a speech in New York. "Once you start issuing $1 trillion, $2 trillion...we know the dollar is going to depreciate, so we hate you guys."
Mr. Ping's anxieties are reflected in the market for credit default swaps (CDS), a leading indicator of fixed-income investor sentiment. For the week ending September 28, the cost to insure $10 million of U.S. government debt spiked from $6,762 to $41,930, a sixfold increase.
It took two centuries for America to accumulate its first $1 trillion in debt. Today, we add another trillion in new debt approximately every nine months. The United States has more debt per capita than Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Spain combined. With less than 5% of the world's population, the United States has a staggering one third of worldwide government debt. Columnist Mark Steyn presaged this in his 2011 book After America, and some states are waking up to the fact.
Shortly after the 2012 presidential election, over 4,000 North Dakotans signed a petition to secede. "North Dakota's pretty self-sufficient and has got great people," said Baldwin resident Kristy Little in an interview with KVLY television. "It would be a good country."
Rome lost Gaul and Achaea because it was broke. The British lost India, Hong Kong, and the Suez Canal because they were broke. Moscow lost Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Belarus because they were broke. Bankrupt empires usually start to crumble at the periphery. Half of Arizona may already be gone. "Mexican drug cartels literally control parts of Arizona," said Sheriff Paul Babea of Pinal County in the southern part of the state.
On April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union launched the first human being into outer space, when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth -- and by the turn of the century, one Russian ruble was trading at around 3 cents on the dollar.
In a few years, when America has gone the way of the old Soviet Union, historians will note that the breakup of the United States started with the 2013 raising of the debt ceiling.
America ceased to be a country when the dollar collapsed under the weight of its own debt.