Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Fiscal Cliff is more like Fiscal Quicksand

The United States government is nearly $17 trillion in the hole. It's an unimaginably large number. Years ago people predicted disaster if we went over $6 trillion, then $10 trillion. The train wreck never came. What's the limit of our debt? The fact is, there isn't any.

The Federal Reserve can literally create money at will. It's nothing more than a spreadsheet entry. Theoretically, they could create $17 trillion out of thin air and buy up the entirety of U.S. debt. What if the U.S. defaulted on its debt to the Fed? So what? The Fed can create money. They'll never go bankrupt. The government will never default though, because the Fed will provide all the money that's needed, even to borrow to pay the the Fed. It can even loan the government money at zero or negative interest rates.

At some point people will come to realize that the only restraint on the spending of the Federal government is the will of Congress. Congress has shown no signs that it's appetite for more spending is diminishing. When they talk about cuts, they're really talking about slowing down the rate of growth of spending, not actually reducing spending.

The consequence is not really government taking money from the private sector, it's the government directing resources, rather than the private sector. Once people figure out that the government is a source of unrestricted cash, lots of them will want to work for and sell things to the government. What's wrong with that? Well, it directs human activity to the most unproductive endeavors human kind has ever come up with.

In the old Soviet Union, people had savings. But what do you spend your money on when you walk into a shop and there are 25 of the same crappy suit you already own? Nobody's engaged in anything creative, new or exciting. That's not how government work rolls.

Cuba recently announced that unemployment hit a high of 3.8%. They have virtually no unemployment, because 80+ percent of adult workers work for the government and many adults just don't work, and aren't counted as members of the workforce. So even with great employment stats, the economy and quality of life are third world.

A thriving economy is not built on statistics. It's more than a measure of the cash in circulation. It's about incentives. People want to do exciting things in exchange for cash they can use to buy exciting things. If cash can be obtained by simply engaging and participating in some mundane make-work activity assigned by Uncle Sugar, there's no incentive to be extraordinary, and there's nothing extraordinary to buy, because nobody else has any reason to excel either.

This explains how you can have a mountain of debt, printing presses running at full tilt, and no inflation. The inflation doesn't come about until necessities become scarce. We're not there yet. But we're on our way.

No comments: