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Standard And Poor’s Should Be Embarrassed

The United States is simply not at risk of default. Default is impossible for a sovereign currency issuer.

The Standard & Poor’s rating firm should be embarrassed. If there is any political judgment at work here, it is S&P. falling for politically motivated scare mongering. But given its track record with mortgage securities and collateralized debt obligations, why should we be surprised to see a rating agency relying on conventional wisdom rather than analysis?

The whole premise of the rating is incorrect. The U.S. may eventually experience unacceptable levels of inflation, but the experience of Japan shows that stop-and-start fiscal stimulus is more likely to result in protracted near-term deflation.

Every time Japan tried to lower its public-debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratio by cutting spending, the resulting drop in economic activity actually made that ratio worse. We are seeing the same results in Ireland and Latvia. The United Kingdom tried the same experiment 10 times in the last 100 years, and every time it got the same results: cutting spending to reduce budget deficits results in a fall in G.D.P. that makes the debt burden worse, not better.

The remedy should be to get private sector debt loads down via encouraging debt restructuring and write-offs, and using well targeted fiscal stimulus to offset the impact of those efforts. But S&P instead would have us do the economic equivalent of trying to cure an infection by using leeches.

Misguided cures killed a lot of patients and are killing a lot of economies.

By: Yves Smith, Writer for Naked Capitalism. Original article appeared in The New York Times, April 18, 2011

April 19, 2011 Posted by | Capitalism, Congress, Conservatives, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Economic Recovery, Economy, Federal Budget, Financial Institutions, Financial Reform, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideology, Lawmakers, Lobbyists, Media, Mortgages, Politics, Pundits, Standard and Poor's | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Risks To Boehner In Debt-Ceiling Brinkmanship

Although John Boehner and the Republicans are coming off what is widely being scored as a victory on the argument over the 2011 budget, they risk overconfidence as Congress turns its attention to the next debate, which is the fight over raising the federal debt limit.

Perhaps the most important piece of reporting that you’ll read on the debt limit debate is this one, from The Times’ Jackie Calmes:

The Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has privately urged the conservatives not to filibuster, without success, say three people familiar with the talks. He argued that if Republicans did not filibuster and just 50 votes were needed for passage, the Republicans could try to force all the votes to come from the 51 Democrats — including 17 who are up for re-election. But if 60 votes are required because of a filibuster, ultimately some Republicans would have to vote for the increase lest the party be blamed for a debt crisis.

Mr. McConnell is discouraging his colleagues from filibustering a vote to increase the federal debt limit because he knows that, if push came to shove, some of his colleagues would almost certainly have to vote yea. He’d rather it pass in a 51-vote environment, where all of the votes could come from Democrats, than in a 60-vote environment, where at least seven Republicans would have to agree to a cloture motion. 

Although Mr. McConnell’s remarks were made privately, other prominent Republicans have said as much publicly (including Mr. Boehner, who has said that a failure to raise the debt limit would create a “financial disaster,” and the G.O.P.’s designated budget hawk, Paul Ryan, who has remarked that the debt ceiling must be raised and will be raised.)

That doesn’t sound like much of a negotiating position. How to reconcile it against comments from other Republicans, such as Eric Cantor, that the debt ceiling vote will provide Republicans with “leverage” to extract additional policy compromises from President Obama and the Democrats. The obvious answer is that Republicans are running a bluff.

If the Congress does not vote to increase the debt ceiling — a statutory provision that governs how many of its debts the Treasury is allowed to pay back (but not how many obligations the United States is allowed to incur in the first place) — then the Treasury will first undertake a series of what it terms “extraordinary actions” to buy time. The “extraordinary actions” are not actually all that extraordinary — at least some of them were undertaken prior to six of the seven debt ceiling votes between 1996 and 2007.

But once the Treasury exhausts this authority, the United States would default on its debt for the first time in its history, which could have consequences like the ones that Mr. Boehner has imagined: a severe global financial crisis (possibly larger in magnitude than the one the world began experiencing in 2007 and 2008), and a significant long-term increase in the United States’ borrowing costs, which could cost it its leadership position in the global economy. Another severe recession would probably be about the best-case scenario if that were to occur.

A second recession would almost certainly hurt Mr. Obama’s re-election chances, regardless of how articulate he were about trying to pin the blame on the Republicans. But it would also hurt virtually every other incumbent, including the Republicans (and likely also the Democrats) in the Congress.

While it’s hard to know exactly what the political consequences might be — a debt default has never happened before — some combination of the following might occur:

1. Mr. Obama would be significantly less likely to win a second term;

2. Mr. Boehner, Mr. Cantor, Mr. McConnell and other Republicans would have more difficulty retaining their leadership positions in the Congress;

3. All incumbents would have more difficulty winning re-election, both because of the magnitude of the policy disaster and because the debt default (in addition to hurting the poor) would have a large impact on wealthy individuals and corporations, who are key to fund-raising;

4. Similarly, all incumbents, including Mr. Obama, would become significantly more vulnerable to primary challenges;

5. The two major parties would be significantly discredited and might fracture, possibly leading to the rise the rise of a credible presidential candidate from a third-party, or a spin-off of one of the existing parties;

6. A Constitutional crisis might ensue, because the Treasury has contradictory obligations in the event of a debt default with few clear rules (and no precedent) to guide them;

7. The challengers that were elected in 2012 would have significant difficulty retaining their seats in 2014 and 2016 because the fiscal crisis brought on by the debt default would probably last for several years and would lead to extremely unpopular austerity measures — so any immediate-term gains by either party could prove fleeting.

In short, this as close as you can get in American politics to mutually assured destruction. No matter how Machiavellian your outlook, it’s very hard to make the case that any politician with a significant amount of power would become more powerful in the event of a debt default. They also would be harmed personally, since many Congressmen have significant investments in credit, stock or housing markets, all of which would be adversely affected.

A lot of the reporting I’ve seen on the debt limit vote, especially in those publications that focus more on politics than policy, has portrayed it as a zero-sum game. That’s the wrong characterization. In contrast to a government shutdown — which could have some negative consequences for incumbents of both parties, but not ones so large that they couldn’t be outweighed by strategic considerations — a debt default would be a bigger emergency by at least an order of magnitude. Its consequences are also much less linear and much less predicable than those of a government shutdown: you can’t partially default any more than you can be half-pregnant.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Republicans won’t be able to extract any concessions at all out of the Democrats. It’s possible that the White House — which has been risk-averse in recent months as it has focused on Mr. Obama’s re-election — might not be willing to take the chance of something going wrong. It’s possible that the White House could give the Republicans some concessions that they viewed as minor, inevitable, or actually desirable from a political and policy standpoint.

But Mr. Boehner may face just as much risk as Mr. Obama, if not more. He has promised his more conservative members that he will extract significant concessions from the Democrats before he agrees to an increase in the debt limit. A White House that was willing to play hardball could put him to the test, and perhaps cause a substantial loss of face.

I don’t know that this particular (and rather cautious) White House is likely to do that. But the equilibrium outcome is probably some fairly token concessions — enough to provide Mr. Boehner with some cover with the Tea Party but not much more.

That’s assuming, of course, that both sides play the “game” optimally, which is far from assured. If Mr. Obama is a good poker player, he’ll know not to disregard Mr. Boehner’s earlier rhetoric, which gave away the vulnerability of his hand. And he’ll recognize Mr. Boehner’s more recent and more confident rhetoric for what it is: the oldest “tell” in the poker book, a show of strength betraying the ultimate weakness of his position.

By: Nate Silver, Five Thirty Eight, April 11, 2011

April 12, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Tea Party, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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