Drowning in Debt

by northmantrader

Ignored but true: All the projections about coming growth as a result of tax cuts have been proven wrong. All the promises that tax cuts would pay for themselves: Wrong. All the promises that we will pay off the debt: Wrong.

I know, I know, for years the ballooning debt hasn’t mattered and that fact appears to give license to those that argue that debt doesn’t matter. Yes, nothing matters until it does.

Yesterday the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its latest budget outlook and it’s grim. Again.

Trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, for every year in the coming decade and debt ballooning into the stratosphere:

We’ll be drowning in debt.

Every pretense to care about debt or deficits has entirely vanished from the public political discourse. Although it doesn’t take a Nostradamus to imagine Republicans to suddenly rediscover fiscal concerns whenever they will be no longer be in power at some point in the future. Perceived hypocrisy aside fact is both parties, divided as they may seem, agree on one thing absolutely: Approve every budget. With no fiscal discipline on the horizon the CBO projections appear right on the money.

Except of course they are not for they don’t model a recession into the future. Ever:

Reality is debt and deficits expand on an even more accelerated pace during recessions as the government needs to lay out benefits and find ways to stimulate a shrinking economy.

Over the past few decades increased debt spending in conjunction with loose monetary policy has been the primary fuel to keep minimizing the impact of recessions. Recessions are naturally not popular and they’re not conducive for electoral politics. Hence they must be avoided at all costs and be kept to a short a time period as possible.

I’m all for that of course, for who wants millions of unemployed and high poverty rates? I don’t, but the issue is that we’ve expanded on an ever more consequential boom and bust cycle. It takes ever more debt to produce ever less incremental growth:

And here we are, at this point in time of a very aging business cycle at the beginning of a decade long run in trillion dollar deficits to come:

This is the starting point, not the end point. Ponder that.

But oh all that stimulus producing growth? All nonsense.

It didn’t happen:

What did happen is that corporations made out like bandits seeing their tax contribution plummet in historic fashion:

Now we hear promises how the debt can be paid if the Fed would just reduce interest rates further:

Show me the countries with lower and negative rates that are paying off their debts. They don’t exist. Except Germany perhaps because it’s running a budget surplus. Remember those?

Global debt is higher than ever precisely because of artificial low rates:

Low rates enable poor fiscal discipline, it makes poor discipline appear consequence free.

But there’s a larger problem with the argument that lower rates help pay off the debt. Basic reality.

If low rates helped to pay off the debt then zero rates for years did nothing of the sort:

Fact is interest on debt increased as did debt during times of zero rates. But just the slightest increase in rates produced an accelerated curve in interest on debt. So much debt has been accumulated that higher rates are virtually impossible to sustain the vast amounts of debt.

The truth is we’re all trapped in a historic debt cycle that requires ever more debt for ever less incremental growth. But nobody wants to hear the truth because it is unpopular:


Worse: As the debt trap becomes ever more daunting the fear of a recession becomes ever more pronounced. And rightfully so. Corporations and the top 1% have reaped most of the benefits of the debt and easy money cycle. And while workers can take comfort in a current low unemployment rate they also must know that they are the first sacrificial lamb when the next recession hits. It’s not the executives that get laid off, it’s the front line workers that get to experience the new round of “right sizing” in the name of efficiency.

Yes, things always look best during the boom. But it’s understanding the price paid for the boom that informs who pays the bill once the bust triggers.

This boom has been financed with debt and the world is now drowning in debt like never before with no end in sight and zero leadership anywhere on the horizon to fix it. The Trump administration is already touting new tax cuts, those on the left offer programs such as student loan forgiveness which gets the taxpayer to take on the debt and central banks encourage governments across the globe to engage in “fiscal stimulus” which is code for more debt.

Debt won’t matter until it does, but be aware, what’s unfolding here is a history tragedy and the next bust cycle will haunt all of us.