Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Op-ed:
Debt, Budgeting, and Necessary Evils                                 By: Diane Sori / The Patriot Factor / Right Side Patriots

As we head down the road to the November 8th election, and since the national debt is once again being pushed to the forefront as something that many say must not only be addressed but actually dealt with, there is something very important that is often forgotten...as in the actuality of numbers being shifting on paper...as in numbers being 'manipulated'...something akin to federal market manipulation...done to make it appear that the national debt is either more or less than it actually is.

And being that I am not an economist I am forced to speak in generalities in this article, but even I know that certain tangibles are just common sense dictated. And the number one tangible is that the national debt is most assuredly open to numbers shifting and manipulation and that a balanced budget...the cry of so many...is NOT necessary to a successful economy and sometimes can actually work against both a country's economic stability and its economic recovery when coming out of a recession.

First…as to the national debt…as I write this article the U.S. national debt stands at roughly $19 and a half trillion dollars* and growing due to rising annual deficits. But what exactly are the specifics of the national debt some ask…simply, it’s the total amount of monies owed by the U.S. federal government to creditors, and this includes all individuals, businesses, governments, and other organizations that own U.S. government debt securities, but does not include any debts in the name of individuals, corporations and state or municipal governments.  

And why is this money owed…because of a failure of the federal government…and especially Obama…to understand basic economics 101…as in you cannot spend more money than you take in. And when you add in the monies borrowed to make up the difference the national debt becomes the ‘gross federal debt.’ And that debt has two parts with one part being the debt held by the public…meaning money the government borrows on the open market from domestic or foreign investors; and the other part being what’s known as intra-governmental debt meaning money the government owes itself…with the Social Security trust fund being but the largest and most known example with the others being similar programs for government employees and the military.

And here is where one major problem lies as Social Security revenues have exceeded benefit payments for years now with the surplus being required by law to be invested in ‘treasuries’...’treasuries’ that have a low liquidity risk and almost zero credit risk but have yields that are lower than all other kinds of debt securities of comparable maturities…with treasury bills having a maturity of less than one year; treasury notes maturing between one and ten years; and with treasury bonds reaching maturity over 10 years.

So knowing all the above how can the ‘monies owed’ numbers be manipulated…for starters by the government's abolishing of the long held ‘gold standard’ they has been able to depreciate the value of our currency allowing for what some economists call the “hidden and deceptive tax of inflation.” And according to these same economists inflation could be controlled if the feds were not able to monetize debt or manipulate mandatory reserve requirements…as in the amount of monies that must by law be kept in reserve for emergencies.  

But now the questions are what exactly is the ‘tax of inflation’…which comes complete with a rise in interest rates courtesy of the Federal Reserve reducing ‘real’ interest rates on U.S. government debt obligations…and how does it tie into the national debt. Simply, inflation is an increase in what’s called ‘fiat’ money…monies paper and otherwise that our government declares to be legal tender but monies not backed by a physical commodity (tangible ‘treasure’) that brings with it higher consumer prices. And this happens when the economy's “aggregate volume of money” expenditures (total spending in the economy) grows at a faster rate than its total real output grows. 

Now when you add in that inflation is also an increase in the actual supply of money (again without tangible ‘treasure’ to back it up) and without a corresponding increase in the supply of goods and services that should but don’t go with it, the reality becomes that when only the federal government can create new money in order to cover for what it spends in excess of its income…its monies made…you just know the numbers have been manipulated so that the feds…so that Obama…can cover what they know is spending wrong doing but simply don’t care.

And numbers manipulation can be used in both the pro and con sense in regards to the national debt with actual budget deficits…with deficits being the annual difference between income and expenses…inflating the debt and with surpluses shrinking it. Two pros of the national debt is that first, it is a good way to get short term extra funds to invest in much needed infrastructure improvements and second, a ‘revolving debt’…a line of credit where the customer (in this case the government) pays a commitment fee and is then allowed to use the funds when they are needed….is how we are able to fund all of our programs and finance both private and government investment in what’s called ‘productive capital’ (capital which is invested to give interest) to support and sustain economic growth.

But the cons are what most need to understand for too much debt…the situation we now face thanks to Obama and his cronies out of control spending…means increasing government resources must go towards ‘servicing debt’…as in to pay interest not to pay down the principal owed.

Another critical con is that by paying off the national debt…bringing it down to zero as many want…is that a debt-free U.S. can upset the global financial markets as there would then be no need to issue U.S. Treasury bonds. And why…because we borrow money by selling bonds and with no debt there would be no reason or obligation to sell bonds…and with no reason or obligation to sell bonds especially with U.S. bonds seen as a safe investment and the backbone of the global economy…other country’s economies would then be tethering on quite unstable grounds for what then could they safely invest in.

Remember, too, the national debt has been around since our country’s birth starting with the $75 million inherited from the original 13 colonies, so is paying off the national debt a necessity or even required by law…in a word ‘no.’ But with this being a time of relatively high unemployment paying off the debt in full would a be economically disastrous as the foreign markets would then lose confidence in America's ability to pay its debts as they actually come due. And if the markets lose confidence they will either stop lending monies or will demand higher interest on monies lent…neither a wanted scenario. 

And yet common sense dictates that what should be done is at least reduce the size of the debt. But sadly, the fastest way to do so is to increase taxes and cut spending, something many on both sides of the aisle would never go for. So a compromise of sorts would be that if the national debt could be made to stay around a congressional set percentage of the GNP…the Gross National Product (the total value of all final goods and services produced within our nation in a particular year)...and with the economy having a GDP…the Gross Domestic Product (a monetary measure of the market value of all final goods and services produced in either a quarterly or yearly period)...that grows at a steady rate of around 3-4% each year, the economy itself would then start to show a decidedly marked improvement.

And all this could be done by lowering the amount of monies owed NOT by wrongly paying off the national debt in full.

Now as for the call for a balanced budget…here too there are pros and cons, and in this case the cons are more critical to our economic well-being than the pros. And a big con is that a balanced budget would limit the federal government's ability to deflect sudden threats to the economy…as in for example extra monies suddenly needed for war…and according to numerous Keynesian economists, a balanced budget can actually hinder an economy’s ability to ward off serious recessions. For example, if interest rates rise too quickly (to fight inflation), the government would find it very hard to afford interest payments on the national debt, leading to default or still even higher inflation.

A vicious cycle for sure, tightly tying the national debt and the budget together.

How so…as with the aforementioned inadvisability of paying off the national debt…which can only be reduced by increased taxation, reduced spending in sometimes key areas (as in major cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security), debt restructuring (numbers shifting), monetization of the debt (the process of turning U.S. Treasury debt and private corporate debt into money), or outright default…all unwanted scenarios…comes the indisputable fact that the federal budget process does deal directly with taxation and monies spent, and suggestions made for restructuring the debt or for defaulting will most likely not be to ‘We the People’s’ benefit or will actually address the debt. 

Not be to ‘We the People's’ benefit puts it mildly for in no uncertain terms this means that to balance the budget, like with paying off the national debt, taxes must be raised and raised again and again until there will be more taxes taken out of your paycheck than the pay you get to take home.

And while most elected officials…most politicians…know and accept this as fact…some still continue to push for a ‘balanced budget amendment’…an amendment that contrary to what some claim still would not put a set-in-stone limit on government spending as a vote by three fifths of Congress could raise the limit…making this yet another reason why Congress must stay red. And while this amendment would also putting certain restrictions on the amount of debt the feds are allowed to accrue, the fact remains that this amendment is nothing but a band aid of sorts laying on top of the still remaining core issue of how to seriously control over sending.  

And while the budget process itself gives Congress the chance to pick through both individual and government programs and spending to see what works and what doesn’t coupled with what is needed and what is not needed…to balance the budget forever means costs must be contained while income sources still must be obtained…again meaning taxes need to be raised…and with the burden of that raise falling as usual on the already struggling and over-taxed middle class.

So while some aspects of balancing the budget do show promise of sorts…like its addressing of the deficit and long-term debts…the fact is that this amendment does not take into account that if government spending is cut drastically or is cut too fast, this can lead to an increased economic downturn. And as per some leading economists, government spending should increase when the economy is on the decline, because when a country starts producing less than they used to, there is a recession, and if that condition goes on for a given period of time, then a depression results and if lasting long enough a country’s economy…including our own…could collapse.

And while all this sounds like gloom and doom, what people simply need to be remember is that for a country to truly be successful in the economic sense is that some manageable debt is advisable...just like one needs to have some personal debts so that one has a history of repayment because without that one cannot get loans as in a mortgage or a car loan...and that balancing the budget does more harm than good no matter what some politicians pandering for votes say.
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* See the national debt in real time here: http://www.usdebtclock.org/

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