Robert Reich Analyzes Economy, Debt and US Credit Rating

Robert Reich Analyzes Economy, Debt
and U.S. Credit Rating


August 8, 2011 - This bulletin is to share with you two insightful analytical columns published recently by former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, regarding the debate over the federal economy and debt, and the reasons for and effects of the downgrading of the U.S. Credit rating by Standard & Poor’s. The columns have interesting implications for the Building Trades. Following are links to the on-line columns, and then the full text of each.

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/279-82/6953-focus-slouching-toward-a-double-dip

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/279-82/6928-downgrading-the-us
 

Slouching Toward a Double-Dip

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog


For no good reason.
August 8, 2011 - magine your house is burning. You call the fire department but your call isn't answered because every fire fighter in town is debating whether there will be enough water to fight fires over the next ten years, even though water is plentiful right now. (Yes, there's a long-term problem.) One faction won't even allow the fire trucks out of the garage unless everyone agrees to cut water use. An agency that rates fire departments has just issued a downgrade, causing everyone to hoard water.

While all this squabbling continues, your house burns to the ground and the fire has now spread to your neighbors' homes. But because everyone is preoccupied with the wrong question (the long-term water supply) and the wrong solution (saving water now), there's no response. In the end, the town comes up with a plan for the water supply over the next decade, but it's irrelevant because the whole town has been turned to ashes.

Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but you get the point. The American economy is on the verge of another recession. Most Americans haven't even emerged from the last one. Consumers (70 percent of the economy) won't or can't spend because their major asset is worth a third less than it was five years ago, they can't borrow as before, and they're justifiably worried about their jobs and wages. And without customers, businesses won't expand and hire. So we're trapped in a vicious cycle that's getting worse.

But the government won't come to the rescue by spending more and cutting most peoples' taxes because it's obsessed by a so-called "debt crisis" based on budget projections over the next ten years. That obsession - which serves the ideological purposes of right-wing Republicans who really want to shrink government - has even spread to the eat-your-spinach media, deficit hawks in the Democratic Party, and a major (and thoroughly irresponsible) credit-rating agency that's neither standard nor poor.

Meanwhile, some lazy (or misinformed) commentators are linking our faux debt crisis to Europe's real one. But the two are entirely different. Several European nations don't have enough money to repay what they owe their lenders, or even pay the interest. That's threatening the entire euro-zone.

But there's no question that the United States has enough money to pay what it owes. We're the richest nation in the world and we print the money the world relies on. The only question on this side of the pond is whether tea-party Republicans will allow America to pay its bills when the debt-ceiling fight resumes at the end of 2012.

Europe is scared of what's happening in the United States - but it's not America's faux "debt crisis" that's spooked them. It's the slowdown here (and the likelihood of another recession), made all the worse as our debt obsession prevents the U.S. government from doing what it should. A slowdown and recession here mean fewer exports from Europe to America. When combined with their genuine debt crisis, this could push Europe's economy over the edge.

The most important aspect of policy making is getting the problem right. We are slouching toward a double-dip because we're getting the problem wrong. Despite what Standard & Poor's says, notwithstanding what's occurring in Europe, and regardless of US budget projections years from now - our current crisis is jobs, wages, and growth. We do not now have a debt crisis.

Every time you hear an American politician analogize the nation's budget to a family budget (as, sadly, even President Obama has done), you should know the politician is not telling the truth. The truth is just the opposite. Our national budget can and should counteract the shrinkage of family budgets by running larger deficits when families cannot.

Americans are more frightened, economically insecure, and angrier than at any time since the Great Depression. If our lawmakers continue to obsess about the wrong thing and fail to do what must be done - and they don't explain it to the nation - Americans will only become more fearful, insecure, and angry.

We are slouching toward a double-dip, with all the human costs that implies. We don't have to be. That is the tragedy of our time.

Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including "The Work of Nations," "Locked in the Cabinet," "Supercapitalism" and his latest book, "AFTERSHOCK: The Next Economy and America's Future." His 'Marketplace' commentaries can be found on publicradio.comand iTunes.

 

 

Downgrading the US

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

August 6, 2011 - tandard & Poor's downgrade of America's debt couldn't come at a worse time. The result is likely to be higher borrowing costs for the government at all levels, and higher interest on your variable-rate mortgage, your auto loan, your credit card loans, and every other penny you borrow.

Why did S&P do it?

Not because America failed to pay its creditors on time. As you may have noticed, we avoided a default.

And not because we might fail to pay our bills at the end of 2012 if tea-party Republicans again hold the nation hostage when their votes will next be needed to raise the debt ceiling. This is a legitimate worry and might have been grounds for a downgrade, but it's not S&P's rationale.

S&P has downgraded the US because it doesn't think we're on track to reduce the nation's debt enough to satisfy S&P - and we're not doing it in a way S&P prefers.

Here's what S&P said: "The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics." S&P also blames what it considers to be weakened "effectiveness, stability, and predictability" of US policy making and political institutions.

Pardon me for asking, but who gave Standard & Poor's the authority to tell America how much debt it has to shed, and how?

If we pay our bills, we're a good credit risk. If we don't, or aren't likely to, we're a bad credit risk. When, how, and by how much we bring down the long term debt - or, more accurately, the ratio of debt to GDP - is none of S&P's business.

S&P's intrusion into American politics is also ironic because, as I pointed out recently, much of our current debt is directly or indirectly due to S&P's failures (along with the failures of the two other major credit-rating agencies - Fitch and Moody's) to do their jobs before the financial meltdown. Until the eve of the collapse S&P gave triple-A ratings to some of the Street's riskiest packages of mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations.

Had S&P done its job and warned investors how much risk Wall Street was taking on, the housing and debt bubbles wouldn't have become so large – and their bursts wouldn't have brought down much of the economy. You and I and other taxpayers wouldn't have had to bail out Wall Street; millions of Americans would now be working now instead of collecting unemployment insurance; the government wouldn't have had to inject the economy with a massive stimulus to save millions of other jobs; and far more tax revenue would now be pouring into the Treasury from individuals and businesses doing better than they are now.

In other words, had Standard & Poor's done its job over the last decade, today's budget deficit would be far smaller and the nation's future debt wouldn't look so menacing.

We'd all be better off had S&P done the job it was supposed to do, then. We've paid a hefty price for its nonfeasance.

A pity S&P is not even doing its job now. We'll be paying another hefty price for its malfeasance today.


Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including "The Work of Nations," "Locked in the Cabinet," "Supercapitalism" and his latest book, "AFTERSHOCK: The Next Economy and America's Future." His 'Marketplace' commentaries can be found on publicradio.comand iTunes.

 

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