Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bartender, hit me again -- and make it a double!

The now nearly-continuous media fixation with the Federal Reserve's monthly interest rate-setting meeting and the unsolicited advice it nearly always offers that rates must be lowered (again) should be ringing alarm bells with anyone who has watched the current economic morass in development with their eyes open.

Rather than fix the system, the people in charge seem to be hoping that a continuing supply of cheap money injected into the economy will stave off a total collapse -- at least until someone else is in charge -- and they are probably right. However, it is likely that the longer the drunk continues, the worse the hangover will be.

The aversion to the R-word (ie regulation) by those in charge, coupled with undending pressure from the financial industry and the pundits who report on it to keep lowering interest rates -- at a time when other countries' central banks are doing the opposite -- is a frightening sign of a future economic disaster.

It's Economics 101 that you can't keep increasing the money supply forever without causing inflation; thus pressure to increase intrerest rates, not lower them, will be building up. It is also simple economics that a hugely expensive war, financed by borrowing, rather than by a tax increase, will result in pressure for higher and higher interest rates, because the people and governments who buy US debt obligations will demand higher and higher returns to keep buying them. (Especially, as now, when they have begun to realize that the phrase "backed by the full faith and credit" of the US government might not mean much anymore)

And these buyers of our debt are some of the most powerful nations on Earth -- China, just to mention one. If we were Argentina or Brazil, rather than who we are, the governments and bankers of our creditor countries would be pushing for economic concessions from us to force us to put our fiscal house in order. In the past, our government and bankers routinely drove debtor nations into near-penury and caused real hardship to their citizens by insisting on draconian repayment and economic restructuring arrangements on national debt obligations.

Suppose we in the USA were to be on the receiving end of such an arrangement? What would it be like to live in a country where nearly all government programs had to be eliminated and the bulk of our GDP siphoned off to pay foreign creditors -- possibly for a couple of decades? World wars have started over less.