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Puerto Rico files for biggest ever U.S. local government bankruptcy (reuters.com)
619 points by chollida1 on May 3, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 460 comments

I have lived all my life in Puerto Rico, and as you can imagine, this issue is quite controversial. We owe money to the creditors... and what you do with a debt is to you pay it off. Yet the amount is so staggering, that I wonder if it's actually possible.

As is typical, decisions by politicians placed us in this situation. Decade after decade, 4-year term after 4-year term, the government has spent money it does not have. Be one political party or the other, it is the same thing.

There was a big manifestation this past Monday, where various Unions, groups, and students did a "Paro Nacional". Truthfully, I don't think they accomplished anything, other than various idiots vandalizing property they don't own. We are in deep shit, and it's going to get worse.

Lots of people are leaving the island, which just compounds the problem (less revenue).

I don't leave because: it's where I was born, where I have lived my entire life, and it is, honestly, paradise.

Obligatory John Oliver's Puerto Rico segment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tt-mpuR_QHQ

What will happen? I have no idea. Good to see this in HN.

> We owe money to the creditors... and what you do with a debt is to you pay it off.

That's not the case. Sometimes, you pay your debt off. Sometimes, you default, and file for bankruptcy. For lenders, it's the cost of doing business. If they don't want to deal with the possibility of bankruptcy, they shouldn't lend out money.

Lenders charge creditors a premium, because of the risk of default. It's as much on them to be careful about who they lend money to, as it is on the creditor to be careful about being able to pay off their debts.

That's true in any individual case. But if we make it our social norm that bankruptcy is nothing to be ashamed of and to be taken lightly, won't it change the equilibrium for future generations of lenders and borrowers such that an inefficiently low amount of lending goes on? If everyone has the expectation that the lenders and borrowers will try their best to live up to the contract they made in good faith, wouldn't it be a better equlibrium? And we can work towards such a world bit by bit in how we respond to crises like the Puerto Rico one.

> But if we make it our social norm that bankruptcy is nothing to be ashamed of and to be taken lightly

I don't know about "taken lightly" but bankruptcy and defaulting on a debt should not be something to be "ashamed" of, for an individual, a company, or a government. Default is an option specifically written into every debt contract out there. There should be no more shame in choosing to default as there would be for choosing to exercise a stock option that causes your counterparty lose all his money. Lenders reap a huge premium for doing nothing but assuming the risk of default. If there was zero risk there should be zero premium.

No surprise that it's mainly bankers pushing the "it's immoral to default" line.

>>I don't know about "taken lightly" but bankruptcy and defaulting on a debt should not be something to be "ashamed" of, for an individual, a company, or a government.

It totally depends. There is nothing shameful about declaring bankruptcy because you got into an accident and your insurance company refused to pay your six-figure hospital bill. But if you take out a big loan to build a new hotel and blow it all on hookers and booze? Fuck yeah you should be ashamed (and also go to prison).

That sounds more like fraud.

What if I take out a loan, am perfectly capable of paying it off, but the asset backing the loan has lost sufficient value so as not to be worth the continued investment? Is there any shame in defaulting and letting the lender suffer some of the consequences?

In my personal opinion, no. Especially with secured or collateral-backed loans, the lender knew there was risk going in and there's no reason they shouldn't also suffer some losses in the case the plan doesn't work out.

This is the situation many Americans found themselves in after the last housing bubble and it still makes me sad that some people still feel a sense of obligation to corporations that would screw them in a heartbeat if it would make them a legal dollar.

Sorry but what you are saying is since people are too stupid to understand the contract they signed and to do some math it is the companies fault?

My wife and I at one point were in the hole nearly 1m. The crash put my house way under and the job money fun time went away. It sucked. You know what we did. We canceled the cable TV, we stopped eating out. We watched every penny. I work jobs I hated, hated, hated. We got credit councling and got on a plan with them and stuck to it. We paid our debt.

I am by no means saying that banckrucy should not be an option in some cases. Our medical systems is a mess and that is a huge cause of banckrucy. However let's be clear people signed those loans without understanding it and it is their fault. I knew the cost of the interest only loan I had. I got burned but it was a bet I entered after doing research and math, etc. When it did not work out I sucked it up and delt with it.

I agree that some companies did some shady stuff, but really? You get something to good to be true and you don't question it? The consumer has to take some responsibility for their actions.

The companies are more than capable of doing the math as they are signatories on the same contract. They interest rate they charge on the loaned money is based on their own internal algorithm that determines the risk of default on a particular borrower. Risk is priced into the loan.

I am glad you and your family were able to work your way out of the debt you found yourself and I commend you for it. Many others are not able too. Provided they did not get themselves into debt just to keep up with the Joneses' while living on credit cards, they should not be ashamed or made to feel stupid for taking advantage of a legal option that has been priced into their loan via their interest rate.

You talk of doing the math and taking a bet on your loan. The lenders do the same math and take the same bet. They just don't apply any moral imperative to their actions.

Life happens, and at the end of the day their is no shame in looking at the math and your situation and determining that the numbers don't add up and its time to reset.

I agree but that is not the case for most of this. People spend to much and run up to much debt because they are trying to keep up with the Jones. My wife was property manager for a large company. One of the properties in Orange County, New Port Beach area, had the highest rate of late payments and evictions. This is a A+ complex and has some of the highest rents for the units in the area. Guess what, those people that were late came in to the office with their bags from Nordstrom that they just came from in their BMW or MB asking for extendtions because they did not have the cash (but still had the CC to run up shopping). We as a country over all have made it okay for people not to be responsible for their actions and it will be our downfall. I agree with having the bankruptcy laws but we need to make it harder to get a reset whenthe cause of the situation was your own stupidity. I personally know people (Not friends) that have gone through bankruptcy 2 times, doing the same stupid shit the 2nd time as the first and it does not look like anything has changed with the last.

I personally know people (Not friends) that have gone through bankruptcy 2 times, doing the same stupid shit the 2nd time as the first and it does not look like anything has changed with the last.

The companies that lent them money for the second time should have gotten a clue, shouldn't they? Isn't this precisely what credit reports are for? It is definitely stupid to live over one's means and then go bankrupt, but it is just as stupid to lend money to people that have proven themselves irresponsible in the past, and so whoever lends to them should also suffer the consequences.

Oh they had a clue all right. They were charging the appropriate risk premium. People with bankruptcies are getting credit--expensive credit.

After seven years that data is removed from your credit report due to consumer protection laws. Its possible they had no idea, and even if they did its illegal for them to deny credit because of it if it was 7 years or more ago.

People are debt for all sorts of reasons, regardless of how you want to characterize it. Let's say your claims are generally right. But lenders are still willing to lend to people they probably shouldn't. And as long as they come out ahead overall they will continue to do so.

Regardless of what anyone says to the contrary, we all want the world this way. When we need credit or a loan, we want it to be easy to get because "we'll be responsible about it" and we don't want to be burdened with everyone elses irresponsible debt baggage.

If this was really a problem for lenders they would adopt different practices to avoid this sort of outcome. So instead they are happy to persist it and use whatever tactics they can to maximize their benefit. Lenders lend. They know the risks. They've been doing it for a long time. And they're smarter than you. I'm sure they appreciate your help in fighting their version of the good fight.

Most people aren't consciously running up debt with plans to declare bankruptcy. It happens, but they're not any sort of population to fall back on for an argument about a worldwide system of debt and lending. Using them is really an argument for your own ego and how you're a better person. Maybe you are. But it really has nothing to do with the other 7 billion primates on the planet.

Wow. A personal attack. Way to make a point, not.

There is this statement that about 60% of bankruptcy are from medical debt. Here is a quick over view of that number:


So lets say it is true (it likely is) then what are the other 40% from?

The problem I have with your statements is that you make the companies out to be evil. They should know better and not lend anymore is what you are saying. However how does that work? Should that 60% that filled for the pure reason that someone got really sick not be able to get credit later? Should we have 2 classes of the ability to get credit after bankruptcy? "Okay, well it was medical so no issues. Hey looks like you spent to much but you learned you lesson this time so I guess I will give you a loan. Hey you seem to have not learned your lesson so no loan for you." This is a slippery slope. How does a company value all of this? The answer is they cannot really. There is math behind the lending and it is faceless and has to be because anything else is subjective and could be discriminatory.

This is no different then:

"Hey you should put limiters in to only let the car go the speed limit."

"Hey you had enough soda this week. No more for you."

The company that lends the money can only profile on the finances and payment history. Anything else is really out of bounds. It is not the lenders job to KNOW that you cannot control your spending and they are not EVIL because they do not do so. They are not your parents.

You are blaming the company for something that is the persons responsibility. No one is saying that there are not bad situations were bankruptcy is required. All I was saying that doing it should not be easy. There is a reason a judge is required to rule on this.

Do you have sources for your statement?

If a bad borrower keeps getting loans then it's the fault of the lender. We have nothing to gain by putting such moral weight on bankruptcy.

So the bankruptcy is removed from your report after 7 years. It is really simple to get credit after a bankruptcy because you have no debt. Stupid I know.

>they should not be ashamed or made to feel stupid for taking advantage of a legal option that has been priced into their loan via their interest rate.

This was well-said. Without the risk of default the loan would be worthless for the lender.

An economic argument would be that a customer defaulting now will signal to future lenders that they are a risky customer, leading to a raise in rates for future loans. The moral framework which says that defaulting is bad is in some way codifying the economic argument, by categorising actions that will lead to future difficulties as "immoral".

Whole countries are in huge debt that affect people that were not even born when the debt was established because of US economic hitmen [0]. I feel that all these countries should default and the corporatocracy fof the US should be ashamed of itself.

[0] http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26593431-the-new-confessi...


Please don't be so personally rude to other users.


The parent was disparaging millions of americans by calling them too stupid to read a contract and financially irresponsible, and i pointed out that his situation sounded more financially irresponsible than someone underwater on their mortgage. If they take offense to being called financially irresponsible im not sure how they justify calling millions of americans the very same thing.

that said, fair enough, i was more discourteous than i needed to be in getting my message across, i apologize for that.

While I agree with everything you said, I feel your argument should stand on its own merit. Just because a corporations screw people isn't a good enough reason for people to screw them back.

Your point that the risk premium you pay while taking a loan implies that the lender is willing to take some pain from your failure is sufficient in itself.

Not quite. You make the mistake of adding significance to individual each loan. The reality is a lender might loan to 100,000 people and they know some of those loans are going to fail. If they had a process to only lend to people who would never default, well, impossible.

The interest rates you're being charged aren't tailored specifically to you. But they look at everyone else with similar income and credit and look a the default rate and figure out what they need to charge to make a profit.

It's the sum of the whole lending business, not individual loans, that matter. They'll do as much as they can to mitigate the loss on loans that do default. It's just throwing money away not to. But they've got it all figured out to loan money, have some of it default, and still make plenty of profit. The idea that the minority of people who do default and declare bankruptcy causes them any pain is really quaint and naive.

But boy is that an image their PR would love to get everyone to buy into. If you can convince people to feel bad. If you can convince society as a whole to shame and pressure people into doing something that's the most advantageous for lenders, that is just a lending vision of utopia.

(Disclaimer: I've never been in serious debt or declared bankruptcy. There's no morality that should be implied or assumed by that.)

> But they look at everyone else with similar income and credit and look a the default rate and figure out what they need to charge to make a profit.

But don't these number take into account the fact that the average person is scared/ashamed of defaulting? If personally declaring bankruptcy were much more common, would interest rates be where they are right now?

I think there a "tragedy of the commons" sort of moral responsibility here to only take out loans you have a good chance of paying off as you theoretically raise interest rates for everyone else.

But everyone is definitely not lumped together into a commons. If their is information to delineate people, it will be used. That is what credit scores are used for. Also, of some interest, it was when banks sullied the information, that the housing market really went off the rails.

BTW: We've got to watch out for these financial guys, they'll try it again if they have the chance.

It's not the "financial guys" forcing everyone to sign up for the huge amounts of per-capita debt we're now up to. People are doing that themselves out of their utter lack of self-discipline to save money instead of buying a stupidly overpriced SUV or pickup truck.

And the housing market really went off the rails because people were making stupid bets. Does the casino enable stupid bets? Damn right. But we don't blame them when a gambler loses all their money on a stupid bet.

I'm as pissed as anyone that bankers didn't go to prison en masse, but what they did was package mortgage debt up as more safe than it was. It was home buyers eating up easy money with no restraint that caused the pricing to hit bubble territory.

> Does the casino enable stupid bets? Damn right. But we don't blame them when a gambler loses all their money on a stupid bet.

I think the only reason for that is follow the money. Casinos pay taxes. I'm trying to follow a machine learning mooc and I'm just realizing how much humans (specifically me) suck at classification and at pattern matching.

Planet money I think asked the question: if sugar is addictive, why isn't it regulated?

My questions are Why is alcohol regulated? Why is tobacco regulated? Why is cocaine banned? Why can't we have kinder surprise in the us?

Why is gambling a state monopoly? Why does a casino need a license?

We all don't agree on everything but there's plenty of blame to go around if you think of gambling as an addiction (and addiction as a disease to be treated rather than an excuse to kill people). I think of gambling is a disease, casinos are a "guilty until proven innocent". Sort of like Google's famous " don't be evil" motto which recognizes that an organization in this position is likely to steer towards being evil by default and only by constant vigilance can we prevent ourselves from being evil. In the case of many casinos, I think it is just a matter of cover my ass when they have programs against gambling addiction.

tl;dr I love the idea of personal responsibility but we can't throw people in prison for victimless crimes.

Yep, like casinos, we should regulate banks to avoid allowing them to provoke the worst impulses in people. But at the end of the day, in the current environment, people need to be able to take care of themselves. Regulation should not be treated as a substitute for discipline.

And I agree that sugar should be regulated and taxed, or that we should at least do more to educate them on how destructive it can be to health.

> It's not the "financial guys" forcing everyone to sign up for the huge amounts of per-capita debt we're now up to.

Except that the price of houses rise when everyone else can take out loans beyond their ability to pay. You can't opt out of this game.

Not to mention that most of the people defaulting on their mortgages had the ability to pay - until they lost their jobs. Which they lost because of other people defaulting on their mortgages. The economy was a tinderbox.

When I got my mortgage (c. 2006) I had an idea of what I could afford. I went to the bank hoping they would approve me for that much. Not even taking into account my wife's salary, they approved me for at least $100k more than that. There is no way we would still have our home if we took the bank's advice.

Sure, people make bad decisions. But how can they be expected to make better ones when the people that are supposed to be relied on for good advice give such bad advice.

Good on you for making your own decision rather than outsourcing responsibility to a company that clearly doesn't have your best interest at heart.

Who has ever said that banks are supposed to be relied on for good advice? Hire an accountant for that, the banker works for the bank, not you.

I blame the "sharing is caring" and "safe space" culture. If people were exposed to reality at a younger age they'd know that any advice given is for the advice givers benefit.

In a world of hawks, it is foolish to be a dove.

You can declare bankruptcy all you want, but if you are able to pay your debt, it will not be accepted.

>>That sounds more like fraud.

What do you mean "more like fraud"? Immoral behavior and fraudulent behavior are not mutually exclusive. It is possible for something to be both immoral and fraudulent, such as the example I gave in my post.

>>What if I take out a loan, am perfectly capable of paying it off, but the asset backing the loan has lost sufficient value so as not to be worth the continued investment? Is there any shame in defaulting and letting the lender suffer some of the consequences?

No, I don't think there is any shame in that. Like you said, the risk for that is known upfront and is therefore built into the interest rate.

"Fuck yeah you should be ashamed (and also go to prison)."

I'm sure you would enjoy 18th century england and US. Debtors prison was once totally a thing. I like to think of it's dismissal as an evidence piece that a civilization evolves.

I would like to point out as an addendum that any laws that would harshly punish defaulting debtors would strike equally harsh towards the delinquent and the morally admirable down on his luck.

When considering seriously hard punishments, think for a while what if the person is actually in the situation from no fault of their own. Because, court often has a hard time doing any moral judgements and just looks at the cold facts.

And present day Dubai.

> There should be no more shame in choosing to default as there would be for choosing to exercise a stock option that causes your counterparty lose all his money.

Defaulting on a debt is not about shame. Governments don't feel shame. The ramifications are that future credit becomes much more expensive, as the next contract's debt provisions will be harsher.

> No surprise that it's mainly bankers pushing the "it's immoral to default" line.

Plenty of honest, hard-working individuals pride themselves on always paying their debts. Similarly there are those who think that you shouldn't extend yourself beyond your means. It's not just bankers who consider not paying dues to be immoral.

And the politicians who make the decisions to run up the debt have zero skin in the game. They just get to spend other people's money. In many cases it goes out the door as political payoffs for getting votes.

Yet the people elected them instead of someone pledging austerity and higher taxes.

There's a difference in perception between personal, corporate, and government bankruptcy. Personal bankruptcy is seen as a black mark of either poor personal discipline or a string of bad luck. Corporate bankruptcy is largely ignored, held up in rare cases as a source of embarrassment (but little else), or more often in startup-land, a signal of "experience". Government bankruptcy is something else entirely, and generally unforgivable without significant outside catastrophes. You can blame the politicians, but in a Democratically-elected government, these are your representatives.

Interesting to note on the corporate angle, bankruptcy laws are a fairly-recent invention. (Where by "fairly recent" I mean "several centuries".) The US's laws, in particular, are credited with fostering some of the innovation in this country, as they reduce the impacts of failure.

You make a really good point. HN seems to venerate startups that fail, which isn't very different from defaulting on a loan (and in many cases these startups are defaulting on loans as they shut down).

Yet, in any thread where Greece, Puerto Rico, etc come up there's this strong backlash against defaulting as being somehow immoral (as though it's not written into the lending agreements). What exactly is the difference between burning a bunch of VC money then shutting down and defaulting on a loan? In both cases we have an institution putting money at risk in the hopes of making a profit, and then losing it. I don't see the big moral difference here.

>> HN seems to venerate startups that fail, which isn't very different from defaulting on a loan (and in many cases these startups are defaulting on loans as they shut down).

I don't subscribe to the notion that "bankruptcy is immoral", it's just a business transaction within the established framework with checks and balances in place.

That said though - situation with startups and business development loans in general is a little different because startups are by definition attempting to turn the idea they present to investors into reality with investors' money. So unless they fail because of a blatant mismanagement of funds (which does happen of course) - in a typical startup failure situation where something is built but there's no more runway and no more money coming in and no buyers to take over the operation - this just feels like it's easier to justify the less negative vibe around that situation.

The answer, as I see it, is big dollars and moral focus. A VC investing a couple million bucks in a long-shot startup? You expect risk. Ditto, say, a $300k mortgage to a family of four, but that's more portfolio statistics.

Multi-billion dollar governments go bankrupt because of mis-management. Less "Uber For Dogs" and more "Enron", minus the intentional criminality. Governments go bankrupt because its citizen "shareholders" vote for continued debt accrual and negative EBITA. But citizens don't care. It's OPM: Other People's Money. Since they're also "customers", their goal is to get as much possible out.

Eh, that's cheap. A citizen has far less control over their government than a corporation's managers over their treasury or an individual over their own finances. So your argument applies far less to a government than in the other cases. In any case, politicians actions do not equal the will of the people, as anyone acquainted with a Republican form of government should know.

Majorly cheap, but you're also highlighting a massive bystander effect. "What hope do I, one citizen, have of changing anything?"

The other point is (arguably) that government should not be risking bankruptcy for the sake of innovation. Which in the cases of government bankruptcy, was not the reason for insolvency anyway. So then it comes back to mismanagement, where maybe the better analog is personal bankruptcy. If an individual came to you and said they were declaring bankruptcy because they had spent more than they made for the last 20 years, you probably wouldn't have much sympathy.

At the end of the day, they're all just humans making bad decisions

But it seems like it would honestly be the opposite (i.e., government bankruptcy being bad). The more people that are involved, the higher chance there is of a tragedy of the commons

> If there was zero risk there should be zero premium.

Suppose someone living the HN dream makes a bunch of money from his startup, and decides to pay off his mortgage. It might be structured as a loan from his company to himself, which then has zero risk.

A bank processing an FHA loan has zero default risk, since the government steps in to pay them. And they often sell the loans to a government-run company anyways.

A bank giving a conventional mortgage will often require 20% down, and again they resell the loans to a government-run corporation after a few years anyways. If you default in those first few years, they effectively get a 20% discount on the original purchase price of the house when they take it. Not zero-risk, but the 2008 financial crisis appears to have only had a 30% drop in house prices. (Obviously, subprime lenders can't resell their loans to the government, and didn't require a heavy down payment)

Generally speaking, the idea that interest mostly pays for risk assumes that there is no 'low-hanging fruit' where guaranteed returns are possible if only there was money. Paying down high-interest debt is one form of guaranteed return, so theoretically there shouldn't be such a thing as high-interest debt if the market was mostly efficient.

I guess the conclusion of your view is that: If people were more diligent about handling their money, banks wouldn't make as much risk-free money.

> I guess the conclusion of your view is that: If people were more diligent about handling their money, banks wouldn't make as much risk-free money.

That's very likely the case. Although the real world does not like zeros and tries hard to push some complex high order effects that will be triggered before any zero is realized.

|Default is an option specifically written into every debt contract out there.

Except student loans :(.

You can default on student loans.

Ooop, yeah, you are right. Was thinking bankruptcy.

You can discharge them in bankruptcy, too, it's just harder than most other debt to do so.

My mind immediately went to that too. Smh.

I'm pretty sure taking out a loan that you intend to default on is fraud, but making a contract with someone that you expect to be very profitable to you is not.

If I were to look for fraud anywhere, I'd start by looking at the people who give inflated ratings to bonds.

What about politicians that use the government to take action against firms when they lower particular ratings ?

Are those committing fraud too ?

What, incidentally, about politicians who force pension funds to buy bonds "they like" by legal means ? (at least 200 politicians in current service are guilty of this)

These are US government bonds, by the way, if a default happens with them, the sort of organisation that will suffer the most is US pension funds.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_federal_governme...

Start there, sure, but don't stop there.

Who said anything about taking out a fraudulent loan?

I was responding to "There should be no more shame in choosing to default as there would be for choosing to exercise a stock option that causes your counterparty lose all his money." The idea is, if "default" were just a neutral acceptable option then we wouldn't think of it as fraud if you took out a loan that you planned to default on.

Intent to default sure, but realizing that defaulting is the best option after your circumstances have changes is not fraud.

Not paying your debts is immoral. Sure the risk is priced in but so is the risk of shoplifting in the prices you pay at stores. That doesn't mean that because the risk is priced in that it's somehow moral to shoplift.

Also the reason for default does have some bearing on morality -- a person that declares bankruptcy because of years of buying a new TV every year and going on expensive vacations is much different than a default due to factors outside of one's control (such as being laid off or suffering a medical catastrophe.)

Puerto Rico has, for years, knowingly overspent without much of a fiscal plan to pay debts. This issue isn't due to forces outside their control, but specifically because of decisions they consciously made. It is political malpractice and the people of Puerto Rico will now pay the price for generations. If that isn't immoral, then immoral has lost all meaning.

This issue isn't due to forces outside their control, but specifically because of decisions they consciously made. It is political malpractice and the people of Puerto Rico will now pay the price for generations.

So the children of the children of the children of people of Puerto Rico should accept their situation because of "decisions they consciously made"? They're not even born yet. How does that work?

Whoa whoa whoa! If people default, then bankers might actually have to work for a living and actually evaluate potential customers instead of just cargo-curling their way through forms and praying that everything will be ok.

The C- students that became bankers can't be expected to actually work for a living!


The largest owners of US government debt are US pension funds. This situation exists mostly because politicians demand they get to pick what the bankers invest in (at least 80% in "safe" instruments, ie. from a short list with government bonds).

Also how to resolve this situation ? You do want a pension, right ?

Bankruptcy is perfectly normal for business institutions. Limited liability is the foundation of the entire stock market. It's a basic economic tool used for navigating choppy waters. We only attach a moral value to it when individuals and governments use the tool.

Apples and oranges. The effect of a government bankruptcy on the economy and the society (present and future) is not really comparable to the effect of a bankruptcy amongst individual economic agents. Those are completely different scales.

Also, morality is always attached to anything which involves society and its institutions. For example, good faith in contracts (bona fides) which has evolved all the way from the roman republic is an example of codified morality which proved to be quite useful in societal transactions (i.e. it solidifies expectations of behavior and hastens transactions). Explicit moral value perhaps may not be visible ("basic economic tool") but it is certainly built into foundations of every and any contract.

Without bankruptcy protections, what prevents companies from lending out an unlimited sum of money? Countries don't die. You can't send them to debtors' prison. A lender could effectively sell a corrupt or stupid government unsustainable amounts of debt and then effectively put a lien on the country in perpetuity to get its money back. That hardly seems just towards the citizens, who committed no crime other than electing stupid leaders, many of whom might have been elected before they were even born.

YES, thank you

Indeed. In 1825, France demanded a sum of 150 million francs to be paid by Haiti for the loss of French property during the war two decades ago and threatened miliatry invasion in the event of non-payment. The sum was later reduced to 90 million francs and paid in installments until 1947, some 120 years later. Many believed this debt to be the thing that crushed any prospect of development in Haiti's early history as an independent country.

Sovereign states eponymously don't need bankruptcy protection, as banks cannot collect from them.

Countries pay back loans because they like to keep a good reputation for future loans, but this does not work in a situation where there is nothing to lose since you can't service loans anyway.

(Of course banks can enlist other states to do strong-arming: See eg Greece who were pressured to accept a deal worse than default to benefit foreign EU banks)

> See eg Greece who were pressured to accept a deal worse than default to benefit foreign EU banks

how are they being pressured?

If they don't agree, they will get booted from the Euro currency cooperation. Then they can't issue bonds in Euro. Would have to use their own currency - and that currency would not be in high demand. What would you use it for? Buy olives? Nah, export companies would rather be paid in Euros, dollars or just about anything else...

Just answering from an economic perspective:

> What would you use it for? Buy olives?

No, of course not. What government sells olives ? You'd use it to pay Greek taxes. Those you'll pay anytime you want to buy anything from Greece.

So it doesn't matter if export companies get paid in Euros, Dollars, or anything else. They'd still owe taxes in (presumably) Drachma and that would create a market for Drachmas.

Yes, but don't you think as much taxable activity as possible would be moved out of Greek jurisdiction? Especially as Greece would probably have to raise taxes quite a bit to finance the government... if they no longer have access to a euro bond market to do so.

Well, maybe but what is the non-pressure course that the EU should take here? Isn't that what they (Greece) signed up for when they joined the euro?

Well, credit ratings prevent them.

This is objectively true, so the downvotes are a bit baffling. Credit ratings are directly related to the rate premium bond holders demand for the extra credit risk. It is simply a fact that if the credit ratings are lowered to a sufficient extent, the rate that investors demand for the borrowing will make it no longer feasible.

About 10% of HN downvotes I see are applied on ideological rather than rational or grounds (leaving out those for rudeness or other inappropriate behavior). I take an irrational downvote as a small victory, albeit after making sure that it wasn't just for being a smartass or missing the point.

Not always. The US technically defaulted on its debts when we dumped the gold standard. Luckily for us, we were still the biggest global super power so we were able to tell everyone to just suck it. For reference, there's an estimated $7 Trillion in gold in the world and the US is now $19 Trillion in debt.

Why would you tie an economy's capacity with the limited supply of a good? These trillions of debt (could) have created equivalent value in infrastructure, education, military power etc. The fact that the gold equivalent of what amounts to a whole economy does not exist is not an indication that the value is not there in the economy.

I didn't make any value statements on whether or not I think an asset backed currency is preferable. I just pointed out that the US defaulted on its debt when we told the world we weren't going to pay them back what we promised.

"we"? The US abandoned the gold standard in the 1930s. The "we" that promised anything is long dead and has nothing to do with the "we" (US citizens) now.

A citizen today is no more accountable for actions taken that long ago than for actions taken 4000 years ago.

Nixon was the one that put the nail in the coffin of the gold standard and defaulted on our debt. I don't see how it makes a difference how old our debt is if we're still paying the interest on it.

And the upside is that the economy is much larger than it could ever have been while stuck on gold.

I'm sure it matters, but not as much as a surface analysis would lead you to believe. If we had to hoard a bunch of gold to back up the size of our economy, and further demanded our trade counterparts do the same, then the price of gold would've risen and our ownership proportion of the total sum of gold would've matched our proportional global wealth. I don't have a strong opinion on asset backed currencies, but most of the things armchair economists say about it seem pretty irrational.

There's more people in the country, so there's proportionally more dollars + a little more as an incentive to spend your money. If dollars gained value faster than economic growth (which you just effectiveally capped at the amount of gold your country possesses) nobody would ever spend it. I know I wouldn't.

I'm not sure the current system which actively discourages thrift while enslaving our entire population to life-long debt is objectively better.

Will it stay that way? What happens if it doesn't?


- Love to. How about Global Thermonuclear War?


- Later. Let's play global thermonuclear war.

With a company bankruptcy, the suffering is limited to employees and creditors, who eventually move on to other companies. With government bankruptcy, one can't exactly shrug it off and entrust local affairs to another more competent and better-run government.

> If everyone has the expectation that the lenders and borrowers will try their best to live up to the contract they made in good faith, wouldn't it be a better equlibrium?

What makes you think Puerto Rico did not try? How much longer will the poor have to suffer until you accept they've learned their lesson? Some facts about Puerto Rico:

Puerto Rico is poor, almost half of the people live below the poverty line.

They already, for years had to pay higher taxes and fees on almost everything to fight the deficit.

Years ago the first economists called for a restructuring of the debt because it's highly unlikely Puerto Rico will ever be able to repay it.

For years, those with a good education left Puerto Rico because there is no hope of turning the country around while staying on the current course.

From some abstract moral-focused point of view you are absolutely right of course, but here I agree with Berthold Brecht: Food first, moral second. ("Erst das Fressen, dann die Moral!").

I wasn't making commentary about Puerto Rico, except in taking exception to the poster above me who was pushing the line that not only should Puerto Rico default on their debt, they shouldn't even regard it as a bad thing that they have to, since after all the people lending them the money knew it might never get paid back and built it into the interest they charge.

Well, they did. There's nothing morally superior about being the lender vs. the borrower. Rich people are not better simply by virtue of having money.

It's just business.

What is the exception you're taking? It sounds like it's the "regard it as a bad thing" part, which you present without support.

As long as we're talking about pushing lines.

The joy of the contract is that it is a non-moral document.

Its a contract. Success or failure in being able to meet the conditions are all mapped in.

Bankruptcy is only considered something "to be ashamed of" when it's personal and when you're poor. How many startup founders around here are positively feted after they have ridden one or more rockets into the hillside?

Bankruptcy is a legally accepted aspect of economic transaction and you need to establish that there are moral means before you start talking about moral hazards.

Some people argue for jubilees.

Which has the effect of limiting the sorts of loans people are willing to write.

I think some limit is a good idea. The idea that a city can borrow from the people living there in 20 years is sort of dangerous. Maybe not for durable infrastructure that will still have much value, but for present day services? That's a horrible deal.

(And of course, bankruptcy has much in common with jubilees; not everything, but it implements the idea that debt shouldn't be forever)

The other end of the spectrum is debtors' prisons, which are such a terrible idea for multiple reasons that we've mostly gotten rid of them (except for situations like child support debt where self righteous indignation overrides good policy).

From a ruthlessly clinical evolutionary game-theory perspective... It's also that someone who spreads their genes by creating a child is obtaining a kind of "asset" for themselves, one which society can't transfer and won't morally destroy in retribution.

If A and B both invest in, say, a house, and B disappears leaving debts behind, at least A can sell the house and B isn't getting any ongoing utility from it.

If that were the issue we'd throw parents who give their kids up for adoption in debtors' prisons too.

There is value in spreading genes, but also in spreading memes. The biological patents give the former, the adoptive parents give the latter. As this is an agreement that all parties consent to and it has consideration for all involved and say its a valid system.

Assets provide return on investment. Children do not. Using this term just muddies the water.

The only investment a human can make is in their genetic future. Everything else (money, power) is in service of that.

I'm not convinced. I make investments in the hope that I will end up getting back from it more than I started with; ideally by enough of a margin to cover the time I had to wait.

My genetic future isn't any kind of investment. I'm never seeing any return on that.

Your "genetic future" immediately gets diluted and is barely recognizable after a few generations. A memetic legacy can last much longer.

You might as well say the only investment any human can make is in producing excess heat in the universe.

Technically, producing excess heat is the only thing we ever do

If that were true, men who donated to sperm banks would feel like their lives were complete.


Limited liability, along with joint stock ownership, was possibly the greatest financial invention of all time. In terms of big history, I would mark the inception of this form of human social organization as the beginning of "The Great Acceleration." To a great degree, this is also why the West became so dominant until recent times, allowing for the building of then state of the art ships to undergo risky trade and exploration missions. Without it, no one besides monarchs would invest for fear of being financially ruined for the rest of their lives.

Conflating personal morality with economics... is very bad. It leads to things like debtor's prisons (which, unfortunately, exists more or less in America) and heavily prejudices against poorer people. It's an easy to understand system... you borrow money, you pay it back with interest. Its the lender's responsibility to ascertain your credit worthiness. If you default, it becomes harder for you to get credit and you pay higher interest. There is no need to also attach negative behavioral characteristics. Lets face it, we all know someone who is bad with money, but that doesnt make them a bad person, it just means they need an accountant.

How many times has the President declared bankruptcy? I have many issues with Trump but this is not one of them. in fact, I commend him for being able to reinvent himself by learning how to create an effective brand and sell his name.

You wouldn't bat an eye if a company made a controversial decision, like laying off a number of workers for the benefit of shareholders. Yet too often, we judge people if they cannot pay back.

They should just default. Youll have a higher interest rate for future loans, but youll have something to invest for growth and not stifled by austerity. Ask Greece how austerity is going for their economy.

> I commend him for being able to reinvent himself by learning how to create an effective brand and sell his name.

Which is quite an achievement on a personal level, but is a completely useless thing in every other aspect of society.

If some people get satisfaction out of living in a Trump building, as if that is synonymous with class, more power to them.

The name though literally means nothing. There is no consistency, quality, customer service, or otherwise, to any of the properties that bear the Trump moniker.

Limited companies go bankrupt all the time. Do we consider it an "ethical failure" when some VC funded company folds, leaving a whole bunch of people they owe money to with nothing?

It's not an ethical failure because most of the participants understand that it is high risk/reward. That is why most start-up firms offer equity to their employees, and it is almost impossible for a new startup to borrow debt from banks (unless its personally guaranteed, or extremely expensive) before it has gained traction with its business model.

On the other hand, governments are perceived to be reliable borrowers, so they can receive low interest rate loans and are expected to repay their debt. There is not really a way for governments to issue equity like companies, so if governments become lackadaisical about paying their debts, then we should expect their loans to become much more expensive as well, and this could aggravate the financial distress of many high indebted public entities that are already struggling to pay the bills.

Puerto Rico bonds were paying 8.7% when US Treasuries paid about 2%. I'd say that any competent investor knows perfectly well that Puerto Rico might well not honor the bonds.

> this could aggravate the financial distress of many high indebted public entities that are already struggling to pay the bills.

Governments don't make payments at adjustable-interest rates. If sovereign borrowing rates rise, because the financial markets decide that sovereigns have a higher rate of default then they thought before, this doesn't affect outstanding debt - only the ability to get more.

Most governments don't receive loans with adjustable rates, but they plan their budgets with the expectation that they can refinance their debt once their loans mature. Most governments have regular debt maturities that they must meet, and they would be in big trouble if they can't refinance those loans.

It is also important to separate local governments from the sovereign federal government. The federal government is allowed to print money to cover its debts, which dramatically reduces the concern among creditors that it may default. Local governments have no such option, however; they can only address their deficit by reducing spending or raising taxes. Both options are politically unpopular (hence why most politicians do nothing and pass the buck to their successors), and may be counterproductive because the local citizens can just pack up and move if taxes are increased, or if public services deteriorate.

Edit: I forgot to mention that the most attractive way to raise government revenue is to actually attract more productive citizens to move there and increase the tax base (aka how California managed to dig itself out of its immediate financial hole). However, this is obviously very difficult to achieve in practice.

Thank you for this caveat.

Yes, that is true. Governments typically don't pay off the principal on their loan - more specifically, as soon as the loan matures, they take out another loan.

This is not a problem if you've got some 30-year bonds maturing (As a dollar borrowed 30 years ago is trivial to pay off today), but this is a big problem if most of your debt is in the form of rolling, 1-year, or 3-year bonds.

This is still quite different from a mortgage you need to renegotiate every 5 years, or where the interest rate is pegged to prime + X%.

Governments can borrow in currency not their own. This becomes not only debt at adjustable rates, but debt at "adjustable principal" as well. Risky.

It's understood to be low-risk, but not zero risk.

True, I don't look at it as an ethical failure either way. I am saying, however, that the public/federal government have an interest in maintaining the perception that that is a one-off and state/local governments are reliable borrowers. If a string of bankruptcies happen in a short time window, this could quickly erode the perception that state governments are reliable, and negatively impact many other states that are struggling and need low-interest financing just to pay the bills.

For anybody who has taken a look at the balance sheets of public entities, it is shocking how poorly capitalized many of these local governments actually are, and how aggressive some of their financial assumptions are (with low interest rates and 50% of their capital held in debt, a 8% assumed rate of return is extremely aggressive, and they would need financial rock-stars to achieve this at their scale). If investors are spooked, then interest rates could spike for many other government loans, and cause contagion among local government entities that would eventually require the federal government to intervene.

Those people are not stuck with the bankrupt startup for the rest of their lives. The same cannot be said about Puerto Ricans.

Being stuck with crippling debt that destroys GDP faster than it can be repaid (leading to a deflationary spiral that makes it impossible to EVER pay your debt) is a massively worse alternative, which you are also stuck with the rest of your life.

A little bit, yeah. The leaders of those businesses made promises to people, and they failed to uphold them.

If I promise to meet you for coffee, it's understood that there's a silent "but not if my wife winds up in the ER".

If I promise to pay you back a loan, it's understood that the interest rate you'll charge me is related to the risk of my defaulting and that the option exists.

That interest rate doesn't in any way relieve you of your moral responsibility to pay back that loan, in my opinion, just because you run into financial trouble. People defaulting just because it's legal causes interest rates to rise on others, and imposes costs on the rest of society. Of course, it's important for social reasons for there to be legal ways to get out of inescapable debt, but you're not off the hook morally, in my opinion, if you bit off more than you could chew. It's both your fault and that of the lender if you borrow more than you can handle.

This isn't usually some freak unforeseeable accident. The 2007 crisis was caused as much by people overlevering themselves to take advantage of a situation as it was by predatory lending practices and greed/fraud at the I Bank level. But people love to put all the blame on the banks, and none on themselves for not being prudent.

If a bank is making loans at rates that do not cover defaults they should go out of business because they are crappy at their job.

If I take my car to a mechanic am I expected to know as much about my car as the mechanic? Do I tear down and redo/inspect any work they do to my car? If I go to a mechanic and ask them if it's okay to do something dangerous to my car and they go ahead and do it, I'd say the mechanic is way more on the hook morally than the idiot driver.

Similarly if I go and ask for a 1,000,000 USD mortgage when I'm only making $20,000 USD a year and have no savings or investments and the bank gives it me... You're saying both me and bank are on equal moral footing? You would then have to ask what incentive the bank had to give me the money. Either they are greedy and wanted to charge a super high rate or they intended to pass the buck and sell the loan which can be fraud if they lie about my credit worthiness to the next buyer of the loan.

I would say that your asking for a $1M USD mortgage with a $20k income would be reckless at best, and dishonest at worst. Yes, they're also at fault, but you're not blameless in that case. You have a personal and societal responsibility to spend within your means. To do otherwise causes damage to the rest of us.

It could though cause damage to his social standing by not overspending...

I don't buy it. If your friends judge you based on whether you have a nice car rather than your character and what you accomplish, it's time to get new friends.

While I agree we should do our best to pay our debts, morality shifts with circumstances. If I have an enough debt where it is affecting the lives and future of my children and I have an option to declare bankruptcy to give them a better life, am I not morally obligated to do so as a parent? I would argue that I am.

Morality is a human defined concept. We also only seem to apply it to individuals, a company declares bankruptcy, fires a large number of employees and then rights itself society shrugs but if a person does it we cast shame on them.

Life is short, if I dig myself into a whole with the best of intentions, I am not going to spend years living a lesser life and condemning my kids to that same lesser life if there is a reset button.

Morality is human defined, but it's the set of ideas that, along with a society's institutions, distinguishes a well functioning society from a corrupt and dysfunctional one. It's the set of memes that allows us to function at the massive group scales that we operate at, that allows us to trust strangers to run things that are vital to our own survival. And when that breaks down, and people start acting in their short-sighted self interest (or you think you see them doing that, anyway), you start seeing that trust crack. I think we've been seeing that happening in the US for a while, and I think corporatism separated from a sense of decency and personal accountability while at work is a large part of the cause.

I don't think that it's right for a company to do what you describe wantonly. I absolutely think we should shame companies when they mistreat people.

And what you're describing with your children is selfish, but it's an understandable selfishness - your children are of course going to be a higher priority to you than society at large, as it is with almost all parents.

Anyway, my idea about the obligations of fulfilling one's debts seems to be an unpopular one, and I'm sure I won't change anyone's mind, especially if they've chosen to take on a lot of debt themselves, so I'll stop here.

> It's both your fault and that of the lender if you borrow more than you can handle.

Then why does the borrower have moral culpability in addition to financial culpability, while the lender only takes a financial haircut.

I think lenders have an ethical responsibility to not put borrowers in a bad position as well.

> But people love to put all the blame on the banks, and none on themselves for not being prudent.

Yes, I blame the supposed experts, not the folks they suckered.

Define "promise" in this context though.

VCs invest in opportunity, not promises.

The person I replied to specifically mentioned owing money, so I took it to mean that he wasn't talking about the investors. I do think that a business owner who is unable to pay people he owes should feel bad about it, and should make every effort to pay them back. Just because he's legally off the hook doesn't take him off the hook ethically, in my opinion.

But regardless, you should try to make your investors whole, if at all possible. I view that as your ethical responsibility as someone who receives investment.

Promises only bind those who believe. Those pepole are paid to evaluate the risk.

Hasn't that ship long since sailed? One of the first "shameless" local bankruptcies of significant scale in the U.S. was that of Orange County, CA, a wealthy conservative suburb of Los Angeles, in 1994. They could have paid off their debts if they had wanted to, but their voters did not want to, and repeatedly voted down tax hikes to rapay the bonds. So they defaulted in 1994. This county is still one of the richest in the USA, and can today borrow without any problems, having suffered no real long-term consequences from their default.

The situation in Orange County isn't comparable to Puerto Rico. OC bought derivatives for leverage and wiped out their pension fund. Unlike PR, OC is generally well managed and has a vibrant private sector economy. The courts also forced OC to repay most of the defaulted money.

Considering that Orange County default was caused by local government's mismanagement of the public funds (via highly risky strategies and derivatives that had been banned since then), you can kinda-sorta-maybe see why the citizens didn't exactly line up to give even more of their money to the local government.

Shame is not the word I'd argue is important here, even if it is a factor. But reputation matters.

With governments, it's a lot about the credibility. You could say that it was wise economically for e.g. Argentina to default on its loans in 2001 given the circumstances; however, the default and the associated political rhetoric have cost a great deal to the Argentinian government and people, and it continues its decline, although it was a very wealthy country 80 years ago and effectively avoided the Second World War. The economic and political institutions in the country are not trusted.

I live in Finland, which in 1918 suffered a famine after a bloody civil war. The new government took a loan from U.S. creditors in 1919 to buy food. Many other countries who took similar loans at the same time defaulted them at the Great Depression or the following years in 1930's. Economically, that would have made a lot of sense.

But the Finnish government kept paying it back, even during the beginning of World War II while being attacked by U.S.S.R. This gained a huge positive reputation which helped the country a lot. After the war, the old loan was eventually converted to a fund whose payments were given as university grants and stipends to students coming from Finland to U.S. universities.

It would have been quite easy to default in 1920's or latest in 1940, and most modern economists would have advised for it, but not doing that was a good move.

The loan was eventually finished back in 1984, but the process attracted donors who gave further funding so that the stipend/grant system still exists.

This isn't about a social norm. This isn't about non-payment of debts generally. This is about a very specific and narrow type of loan. The creditors here chose a risk. They could have insisted on security. They could have asked for collateral (ie the deeding over of a property right for a mortgage). They did not. They extended credit on nothing more than a promise and in full knowledge of bankruptcy laws. They also sold these debts onto other knowledgeable investors. The social norm at risk here is the idea that all debts should be treated equally, that we should force unsecured debts to be repaid as if they were secured. To equate credit card debt with mortgages and car loans, that's the really dangerous moral path.

We cannot force debtors to repay money in perpetuity. That's half way to indentured servitude, or worse. If someone has no hope of every paying off their debts, the logical thing to do is not bother trying. That is waste. And we long ago abandoned the idea of debtors prison. Puerto Rico cannot be jailed nor can it be forced to make payments forever as that would destroy their economy forever. The only reasonable thing is to eliminate the debts through the legal process.

> If someone has no hope...bother trying

Could it about setting an example?

Showing the lost case a hard time might scare others into good behavior.

Yes. By allowing investors to realize an actual loss we train future investors to not be so careless with thier money.

These are two-sided contracts negotiated between adults. It is not the role of government to always side with one type of party over all others. The risk of loss is a cornerstone of investment. So too is the concept that one may borrow without risking a lifetime of punishment should the venture fail.

If someone has already defaulted on a loan, that will make you not want to lend to him anymore, perfect.

If the Puerto Rico government defaults now, no banks should lend money to it again ever. Perfect.

This outcome doesn't affect other lender-borrower relationships.

That isn't how it works. It is never how it worked. Plenty of countries have defaulted, and they can still borrow money.

And yeah, it does effect other lender-borrower relationships. It's all people, and people get nervous.

Brazil in late 80s and Argentina in early 2000s default. Both spent a decade with no access to foreign debt whatsoever and prompted a massive crisis. In Argentina it let to the populist Kirschner govt.

Brazil is once again facing mounting debt due continuous budget deficit. This time the govt is pushing for austerity reforms that, if not approved, will lead once again to default. The govt approved ratings are abismal and populist candidates are expected to win next year's general election.

So, defaulting sucks.

Defaulting worked pretty well for Iceland. It worked poorly for Brazil and Argentina.

Not defaulting worked extremely poorly for Greece.

It all depends on the particular circumstances of a country. If you're going to be building massive amounts of infrastructure, then yeah, you may want to consider not defaulting. On the other hand, if the foundations of your economy are sound, you may do well to default, and live with the credit rating hit.

No defaulting and instead trying to rough it out and pay off a crippling debt is massively more harmful for a country. Because they have to basically cut all services and investments into the economy, which causes GDP to contract heavily, which causes a huge decrease in taxes, which causes yet more cuts in government investment.

You get a Greece like deflationary spiral that basically totally destroys your economy, and any hope you ever had of paying off the debt.

Bring on the defaults.

OK. Now tell me about the other side of the coin.

> Plenty of countries have defaulted, and they can still borrow money.

They're shut off from [cheap] public markets though. So while your statement is technically correct, they are usually stuck with lenders of last resort, such as IMF or direct country-to-country loans, which generally come with pretty harsh terms.

Because in case of governments something spurious always happen. That's a special case, and it doesn't have to be that way.

>Plenty of countries have defaulted, and they can still borrow money.

That's the lenders' fault. Bleed the suckers dry. Lenders like that shouldn't get to manage money.

The question is "what are the chances they will default (again?) within the time period of the loan?". That determines the interest rate and the change you will loan it to them.

If after the default, they are in a reasonable state, then yeah, people will lend them money, because there is a good chance they will make a big enough profit.

You WANT to be a lender which balances the risk with the rewards. You don't want one which just blanketly says no to something which has a low risk, which will make a lot of money because you are arse hurt about it.

Of course, but if the lenders miscalculate the risk then that's on them.

Many of those lenders are pension fund managers, who are responsible for managing normal people's retirement funding. This is not a good thing for anyone.

>>If someone has already defaulted on a loan, that will make you not want to lend to him anymore, perfect.

Yep, for example this is why no American bank will give loans to Donald Trump anymore. Too many bankruptcies. So he isn't worth the risk.

All but one of the big banks stopped loaning him or his ventures money after the first few bankruptcies

If you're a mutual fund or an ETF with exposure to PR municipal bonds, you're looking at somewhat of a loss come tomorrow morning.

If you have any spare cash on hand (investor inflows, interest payments and bonds redemptions on other bonds) your choices are:

1) Hold cash, the more the better, in order to prop up the value of the fund.

2) Lend it to another borrower.

I'd say that if you expect a smooth sailing or are in a situation where investors cannot liquidate, strategy (2) is reasonable. But even then you might want to extract some better terms from the borrower by quoting PR as a scare factor.

Most funds, however, will expect either investor outflows or markdowns in other municipal bonds with similar characteristics. For better or for worse, the municipal market is frozen for a new borrower, at least for the next few days.

Wrong. A borrower who defauls is more attractive than a tightwad who never borrows. There is a chance of making money on the former. People going into foreclosure get innudated with loan offers.

Well your default risk is priced into the yield of the bond you issue.

If you've defaulted in the past, your cost of capital will go up in the future.

You can weigh the future effects of renegotiating your debt now, and make a decision.

Iirc GM debt holders took a large haircut in their bond holdings. GM is still a going concern and I'm sure they've issued debt in the last few years after their restructuring.

"it change the equilibrium for future generations of lenders and borrowers such that an inefficiently low amount of lending goes on?"

Well, one of the questions is whether the modern definition of "efficient amount of lending" is in fact the correct value. If we're undervaluing the risk of a fat tail of defaults, and worse, correlated defaults, then the true "efficient amount of lending" may in fact be less than it is today, even much less.

Ten years ago, I could have said that if you looked around, it seemed like a there were an awful lot of entities carrying debt loads that they couldn't possible discharge and default seemed inevitable. Of course, I would have been poopooed and had the claim dismissed because, basically, "debt is good for the economy". Now we live in a world where at least some of those debts have indeed caused catastrophe; Greece is still reeling, the stresses that financial crisis put on the EU are still echoing, Puerto Rico is now declaring bankruptcy, and the "financial crisis" that we have still really not "recovered" from was 100% driven by debt and the slicing and dicing thereto. In light of that, take another fresh look around at the sheer staggering number of entities in massive and probably unsustainable amounts of debt right now, and in light of the fact that it is clearly not impossible for them to default after all... what happens next?

Furthermore, this sort of implicitly presumes that "lending" is the only possible method for attaining the goals, but there are other possibilities, such as selling equity stakes. Selling equity stakes are not equivalent to lending, which indeed is part of the point, and fully exploring the second-order consequences would be on the order of a PhD thesis or beyond, but at least equity-based systems don't have the catastrophic collapse that debt-based systems do due to the lack of leverage. In an equity system, an entity can lose its shirt, but if it does, that's that and it's all done. In a debt-based system, an entity can lose more than its shirt.

And, you know, human society has discovered more than once that debt-based systems are attractive nuisances where the long-term dangers strongly outweigh the short-term gains. I hesitate to directly apply the lessons of the past because a lot of things have changed about the financial world in the last hundred years... but that doesn't guarantee that the modern world won't in fact dig itself in even deeper than any of the ancient civilizations did, with much greater skill, and consuming all the slack in the system before the collapse far more effectively than the ancient world could ever have dreamed of.

In the case of greeece the austerity is far worse than the debt. In America you have to wonder how bailing out the home morgages themselves (including hypothetical haircuts) would have compared in cost and economic effects to bailing out the banks.

I think bankruptcy is nothing to be ashamed of. The only people who tend to think bankruptcy is something to be ashamed of are middle class and poor people. Rich people and corporations have no issue with bankruptcy. The President of the United States has no issue with bankruptcy either. He's used it to his advantage.

But if we make it our social norm that bankruptcy is nothing to be ashamed of and to be taken lightly

If? That's already how the USA is compared to most European societies. Our current President has been through a string of bankruptcies.

Things like shame and "taking lightly" aren secondary to interest rates - a quantitative pricing of the risk. If a gov't sucks at borrowing then their rates will be higher in the future.

The problem with that is large scale economic forces. Sometimes there is not much opportunity "supply" so the price of an asset is wildly bid upward and it seems immoral to not permit the owners to keep their windfall. However fundamentally everyone's about the same on average so the bidding process is really a selection system to award the asset and the obligation to fund the loan payment stream to the least financially responsible "winner". There's some economic term for this along the lines of auction winners dilemma. The guy who lost out in the bidding last place because he was only willing to pay $200K is ironically the guy most likely to pay the bank back its $200K whereas the "winner" who bid $400K to win is incredibly likely to default. Then add a bunch of social engineering such that we all earn equal chance at loans from a bank, and the inevitable result of a system with a pinched supply is the only people earning assets are the people very comfy with screwing the bank and people not willing to screw the bank are going to be eternal renters or homeless or otherwise asset free. So supply weakness freezes the people most likely to pay the bank back out of the economy. Then when it collapses, get the government to bail them out because who can imagine modern life without banks taking their cut?

Just saying, bubbles / relative lack of supply times are a really bad time to be a moral and ethical purchaser. You're either not gonna win and a crook will win, or you'll have to become that crook who willfully screws the bank.

Meanwhile centrally controlled low interest rates mean money is sloshing looking for any return, any. Everything higher return got financialized. So loan money is going to be aggressively thrown at those willing to take out large loans and pretend they'll pay back. A flood in the money supply due to low interest rates gets the same result in the long run as a pinch in worthwhile asset supply.

>But if we make it our social norm that bankruptcy is nothing to be ashamed of and to be taken lightly, won't it change the equilibrium for future generations of lenders and borrowers such that an inefficiently low amount of lending goes on?

"Inefficient" is whatever the heck the market decides it is, subject to supply, demand, and risks. If we make it a social norm to take bankruptcy lightly, oh well, the efficient thing to do for markets is to factor that in.

It has to be considered on moral grounds rather than economic ones.

> won't it change the equilibrium for future generations of lenders and borrowers such that an inefficiently low amount of lending goes on?

Either there's money to be made, or there isn't. There are penalties for defaulting too, like greater difficulty securing future loans, or higher premiums. It's not like defaulting is free of consequences.

> If everyone has the expectation that the lenders and borrowers will try their best to live up to the contract they made in good faith, wouldn't it be a better equlibrium?

No. This will result in bad actors defaulting with little penalty except shame and guilt (which they won't care about) and good actors suffering. We want an equilibrium where good behavior results in at least equal if not better economic outcomes to bad behavior.

This should be priced into the lending until the penalties of defaulting (loss of credit, future lending problems, loss of existing assets and so on) creates the right cost to balance out the cost of paying off the loan.

Any change in equilibrium will be expressed as "higher risk to default" and will make interest rates higher no? Seems like everything will continue to work as intended.

> won't it change the equilibrium for future generations of lenders and borrowers such that an inefficiently low amount of lending goes on

Yes, at one extreme, nobody ever pays anything back and no lending ever happens.

But at the other extreme, everybody always pays their debts and the bankers asymptotically approach ownership of 100% of the money.

I think we are closer to the second extreme than we should be.

Banks lend out of their clients' holdings, so they wouldn't approach 100%.

"Default" is what disincentives giving loans to people who can't pay them off.

Remember that interest on loans that's higher than inflation is effectively profit for the lender; the lender needs to weigh the profit of the loan over the risk of default.

The goal is that every loan is paid off; that's what keeps interest rates low.

> But if we make it our social norm that bankruptcy is nothing to be ashamed of and to be taken lightly, won't it change the equilibrium for future generations of lenders and borrowers such that an inefficiently low amount of lending goes on?

Is there any reason to favor that hypothesis over the competing one that if debt is made onerous, an inefficiently and damagingly high amount of lending goes on? Seems to me the evidence favors the latter hypothesis. It's worth bearing in mind that debt as a social instrument has so easily and often turned toxic that some societies have gone so far as to outlaw it altogether. If you agree with me that this would be an overreaction, would you agree that we therefore need to take steps to tame it and mitigate the damage before that sort of overreaction repeats?

Bankruptcy is the norm in the U.S. That's one of the reasons for the immense economic growth the U.S. has seen.

Appetite for risk is good in the aggregate. PR will get downgraded for sure though.

Aren't the interest rates and credit ratings supposed to factor that in?


It's pretty much a "Tragedy of the Commons" scenario, IMHO.

Exactly. Do we really want to create a society where the lenders have to do an inordinate amount of background research to determine whether you are a default risk? Bad for everyone in that case.

We already live in that society. What do you think the millions of people working in finance do, if not try to quantify risk?

Do you want to live in a society where you and your family can be sold into slavery if you fail to pay off your debts? Because that's the logical consequence of not allowing debts to be discharged from bankruptcy, regardless of your ability to pay.

Being a money-lender shouldn't be a license to print risk-free money.

There are other models other than two extremes. For example, in (at least some) European countries there is not such thing as private person going bankrupt. However, of course that that person won't be sold to slavery. Simply, if you can not repay the loan, your property will be confiscated and sold to repay it. You can dodge that by not having any property on your name, of course, and most such people do that, but that also means having no flow on your bank account (everything over a small life-sustaining minimum would be taken every month).

That is at least in theory. Since a considerable part of the economy is in the gray zone, there are ways of dodging that. Large part of the law system is corrupt, so well connected people always find a way to be untouchable. The system is also inefficient so lots of those debts exist just on paper. Basically, you can't go bankrupt as a person, and you wont be sold to slavery, but you will effectively still own the debt and the only way to not repay it is to work in the black zone outside of the system, or wait so long that the lenders write it off themselves (after a few decades or so?).

In many European nations if you start a business and fail you will never get another chance.

The USA financial system that allow for bankruptcy is part of the reason that we are an entrepreneurial nation.

Failure is part of innovation.

For example, in (at least some) European countries there is not such thing as private person going bankrupt.

In many there is, though it's more restricted in some countries than others, which leads to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bankruptcy_tourism

Ok. In this model, you keep one of your basic rights (freedom) but forever loses another (right to have any property). I'd call this a "semi-slavery" model.

At least in some "debtor's jail" systems you could get your rights back after spending some time incarcerated.

That is a kind of slavery. Plus as a lender you still have to quantify that risk, so what does it buy you?

We have 3 major companies who do the work for the lenders, giving every financially active human in our society a score of how much of a default risk they are.

Do we want to create a society where you are essentially enslaved by the money choices people made before you were born?

Rich banks losing money vs poor people being exploited for the rest of their lives.

I think I know which one I prefer.

Haha I hope this is sarcasm.

I will admit that you are right on that. It's a tough spot to be in.

I bought, and yet to fully read, "Debt - The first 5000 years". One of the things the book states at the start is what you are saying: Not every debt has to be paid off. One of the risks creditors take is the possibility of having a debt not paid back.

I also remember how Haiti was, to this day, punished via monetary means. Haiti wanted freedom? Fine... they will (and did) cripple the entire country.

Another example from the book: Madagascar. The French invaded, and took out their Queen. Then imposed taxes on the population as to get back the money they invested in the invasion/war. wtf

> Another example from the book: Madagascar. The French invaded, and took out their Queen. Then imposed taxes on the population as to get back the money they invested in the invasion/war. wtf

We currently charge imprisoned people for room and board for their jail stays.


> Another example from the book: Madagascar. The French invaded, and took out their Queen. Then imposed taxes on the population as to get back the money they invested in the invasion/war. wtf

That's a leveraged buyout. Borrow money to take control of another entity. Use revenue from the target entity to pay that debt. Profit.

Much of the Puerto Rican debt has been sold at a discount by the original lenders. The risk of default was already priced into those purchases.


Governments are stupid to borrow money and waste it, but banks were supposed to be even more stupid to lend money to these reckless institutions called governments, and it's not wrong if these banks pay the price of their stupidity.

Is it stupid though, if the government then bails them out? In the end it's always the poor people that get screwed.

Is the ability to bail them stupid or the instance?

I don't think the ability is stupid. Is the instance? Can't tell.

It's called greed

This is exactly why different people/companies/governments pay different rates. The rate you pay has your risk factored in.

> If they don't want to deal with the possibility of bankruptcy, they shouldn't lend out money.

While a reasonable idea in abstract, it's of little value to Puerto Rico and its residents.

For the next few decades no one will lend money to them unless backed by some kind of collateral like government land or revenue proceeds from tolls, and their ability to raise money via other means is highly questionable, as servicing current debt has likely exhausted all of the obvious venues.

Every borrower in the municipal market will pay a higher price for this, as funds and other institutional investors will deal with write-offs and potential fund outflows.

> For the next few decades no one will lend money to them unless backed by some kind of collateral like government land or revenue proceeds from tolls

Sounds like normal debt raising. No one will give you money unless you have a plausible story of how it gets paid off.

Why do you consider it a good thing to be able to borrow money you have no plan to pay off?

I don't. I was just pointing out that laissez-faire business-as-usual nothing-to-see-here-folks attitude is rarely suitable for municipal bankruptcies.

None of the recently bankrupt municipal entities in the US - Stockton, Detroit, San Bernardino - are fun to live in, and most are in a downward spiral of cutting government services, which leads to employers leaving, which leads to residents moving, which leads to cutting government services, etc.

>If they don't want to deal with the possibility of bankruptcy, they shouldn't lend out money.

Except your pension fund probably lent them money too - how would you like it if you lost your pension because they decide to default ? This is maybe less true in the US but in EU mandatory pension funds are basically proxy for buying government bonds/funding government spending with a hope they will pay out in the future.

I agree theoretically - but the reality is people don't like to see huge defaults - it breaks confidence/trust - and lower trust increases cost/slows down growth and this is not politically acceptable - therefore politicians do everything they can to eliminate corrections and create distortions to preserve confidence.

There are other options too: borrow money from other creditors (preferably on better terms) and use it to pay off the original creditors; negotiate with the creditors to pay back part of the sum, rather than the whole sum; arrange for the creditor to forgive the debt; buy out the creditor (after all, if all they own are bad loans, they might be willing to sell out for cheap)...

In particular municipal/state/government borrowers tend to prefer the first approach - usually by issuing bonds. In theory they are secured by the government's ability to levy taxes in its territory in perpetuity, so its ability to pay the bonds should be secure so long as there's likely to be future economic activity in the territory.

Completely correct, but a default will mean a much tougher time borrowing in the future. So a bankruptcy now can solve the immediate problem, but this creates a tough situation for the future when debt is needed to finance large projects. What Texas has done was create a "rainy day fund" which is essentially a savings account designed to protect against these sorts of situations. But, that takes fiscal discipline and politicians who are unwilling to attempt to buy votes with money they don't have.

The problem is the the holders of the bonds are largely the people of PR themselves...

I'm really skeptical of this claim. Source?


There is an English transcript there and a lot of stats. The pension funds, for example, are effectively the people of PR.

Yes, and the outcome is that you can't borrow again, in theory. Also, if a region is productive, it should be able to renegotiate, but it sounds like PR isn't up to the challenge.

It's close to saying that, as a shopkeeper, sometimes you get robbed, which is the cost of doing business you charge your customers for - and hence the robbery is ok.

Hum, no.

Robbery and bankruptcy have completely different effects on society. That's why one is legal, and the other isn't.

> If they don't want to deal with the possibility of bankruptcy, they shouldn't lend out money.

This only works if lenders are private groups and if they have the ability to set the terms of the loan (or deny it altogether). Neither of these generally apply at the government level.

Nobody forces lenders to buy up PR bonds, or accept the terms at which they are issued.

EU institutions force them by controlling the policy. Sure, if you have a few millions to invest, you can go elsewhere, but if you have billions, you are most usually working with other people's or institutional money, and are fairly limited by various laws and policies, and large part of that money practically has to go in some sort of government bonds. Then, you can not just disregard those AAA ratings at return * 2 because you'll have trouble explaining that you do not trust the ratings...

Which is why people are so angry at the ratings agencies - they are private institutions that were supposed to be giving honest information, and they have misleading AAA ratings to investments that did not merit them.

>Lots of people are leaving the island, which just compounds the problem (less revenue).

This is one of the effects of Puerto Rico being subject to US minimum wages. Since it's illegal for large portions of the population to receive pay commensurate to the value they're able to produce, and it is legal to move to the US, guess what folks do?

Minimum wage only causes unemployment if the labor market is competitive. This is not currently the case in the US as a few big companies (Walmart, McDonald's) have disproportionate market power, and most economic sectors are becoming even more concentrated. Under such oligopsony conditions, increases in minimum wage will generally come out of profits (which are at historically high levels of the GDP [1]). Since wages are spent locally, but profits not as much, minimum wage regulations should generally help the local economy.

[1] https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=1Pik

but they don't. studies have shown that increases in minimum wage laws tend to benefit those who are in not poor families and a 10% increase in minimum wage can cause prices in the local area to increase four percent.

throw in that even as recently as 2011 President Obama had to sign into law a bill postponing minimum wage laws and increases in America Samoa because it was literally destroying their economy after being force to accept such in 2007 and 2009.

It isn't just competitive labor markets but mobility of those who can fill the jobs that exist. then throw a likelihood of employers to increase work loads to compensate, penalties for tardiness, and such, it does not always turn out to be a boon.

with regards to Puerto Rico, this is simply an example of politicians selling out their populace to retain power and actually being around to be there when the hammer falls. it has happened in a few American cities and there are some states with very excessive and dangerous pension obligations that will be forced to vacate them or seriously reduce them .

Puerto Rico should stand as a warning to anyone who sees politicians promising the moon.

I'm not familiar with American Samoa, but generally states and countries with high minimum wages are doing pretty well economically, see e.g. [1]. States that have recently increased the minimum wage have seen higher economic growth than those that haven't [2].

[1] http://www.scholarsstrategynetwork.org/brief/evidence-higher...

[2] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/07/19/332879409/...

I'm pro minimum wage, but states that have higher minimum wages tend to already have their heads on straighter economically. E.g. Washington state invests heavily in education and caters to high tech more than other states, while California has of course always been a gold mine. Correlation is not causation.

The classic paper on minimum wage hikes and employment rates is Card and Krueger.

On April 1, 1992 New Jersey's minimum wage increased from $4.25 to $5.05 per hour. To evaluate the impact of the law we surveyed 410 fast food restaurants in New Jersey and Pennsylvania before and after the rise in the minimum. Comparisons of the changes in wages, employment, and prices at stores in New Jersey relative to stores in Pennsylvania (where the minimum wage remained fixed at $4.25 per hour) yield simple estimates of the effect of the higher minimum wage. Our empirical findings challenge the prediction that a rise in the minimum reduces employment. Relative to stores in Pennsylvania, fast food restaurants in New Jersey increased employment by 13 percent. We also compare employment growth at stores in New Jersey that were initially paying high wages (and were unaffected by the new law) to employment changes at lower-wage stores. Stores that were unaffected by the minimum wage had the same employment growth as stores in Pennsylvania, while stores that had to increase their wages increased their employment.


There's a criticism of Card and Kreuger that seems devastating, though.

They assessed Full Time Employment (FTE), a statistic which counts full time work as 1 'unit' and part time work as 0.5 'units'. That's really alarming, because we want to assess hours worked, and they used a metric that can't differentiate 30 hours / week from 10 hours / week. It's even worse because cutting hours while hiring more workers is a known way to reduce benefit costs and increase flexibility.

Neumark and Wascher redo the analysis using hours worked, and find a nonsignificant downward trend instead.

I don't think this settles the minimum wage question, but I've never heard a defense of Card and Krueger's result against this charge.


"minimum wage regulations should generally help the local economy."

I would not say that with such certainty…



> Minimum wage only causes unemployment if the labor market is competitive.

Where did you hear that?

Probably someplace like this:

The employment effect of the minimum wage is one of the most studied topics in all of economics. This report examines the most recent wave of this research – roughly since 2000 – to determine the best current estimates of the impact of increases in the minimum wage on the employment prospects of low-wage workers. The weight of that evidence points to little or no employment response to modest increases in the minimum wage.


Some of the same words are indeed found in there

> Since it's illegal for large portions of the population to receive pay commensurate to the value they're able to produce, and it is legal to move to the US, guess what folks do?

If they can't produce enough value to justify minimum wages, why would they move to places with a higher cost of living? They move to the States because the States are better able to attract businesses that will pay them what they are capable of producing (even though the States still have at least the Federal minimum wage, and offlten higher minimums), because the States face more favorable federal policy because Congress and the President need their votes, whereas they don't need PR's because PR doesn't get any in the Federal government.

>If they can't produce enough value to justify minimum wages, why would they move to places with a higher cost of living?

Mopping a floor produces economic value because there's a difference in how much a dirty store sells versus a clean one. If all you can do is mop floors for this thought experiment, this difference in how much the store sells directly effects the economic value of your labor. In Puerto Rico, this difference is less than in the mainland US, which is why the value of their labor (and the natural price of it) is lower.

In other words, since the US is more intensely capitalized, there are more opportunities to provide $7.25/hr worth of value.

Exactly. If you'll excuse me highlighting the obvious, the floor-mopper in Puerto Rico is having to work just as hard as in some other place where the economy is better, so there is a transfer of wealth from that person that's generally not accounted for.

That assumes that the person's work has an inherent value, and further that this inherent value is equal to the highest amount it can be paid in any market. That hardly seems reasonable.

Consider two countries, A and B. A has limited economic development, low technology, poor infrastructure, low education. B is far more advanced. A and B lie on opposite sides of the globe and have essentially never had trade or direct contact. (This is an accurate scenario before the Age of Exploration, where travel was far more limited than now, and there were already large differences in the relative level of development of various lands.)

Person Pa mops the floors in country A and gets paid $0.25/hr. Person Pb mops the floors in country B and gets paid $5.00/hr. (You may wonder how we can define both of their incomes in dollars if the two countries have no contact; you can define a virtual exchange rate based on respective purchasing power, for instance).

Your interpretation states that there is a transfer of wealth from person Pa to... person Pb? Everyone in country B? Everyone in country A? It's not clear, but any of those conclusions seems unreasonable. There is no causal connection between country A and country B, so there can be no wealth transfer between them. And how can the existence of country B, at the unknown and unreachable recesses of the earth, cause a wealth transfer within country A?

The more reasonable interpretation is the opposite: it is person Pb who is receiving a transfer of extra wealth. From whom? From the past and present inhabitants of country B, who have created the wealth, technology, infrastructure and knowledge that allows Pb to receive more for the same amount of work. This interpretation, unlike yours, is backed by clear causal connections.

I do agree, however, that people often fail to account for this transfer of wealth.

I'm looking at it from a different perspective: to stick with your terminology, Pa and Pb must both expend the same time and effort to mop the floor, so their costs (in terms of physical energy expenditure) are identical.

You are correct about the greater transfer of wealth going to Pb, in that if Pb visits country A, s/he will have vastly greater purchasing power and thus economic opportunity (is s/he wants to settle down there) than the reverse situation of Pa going to country B.

Consider the possibility, in these days of globalization and corporate reach, that both are employed by the same firm, such as Walmart of 7-11 (let's forget about franchising and other specific details and consider only the obvious labor cost variations).

So now we have two employees, working for the same entity in different contexts, doing the same amount of work, and enjoying the same amount of purchasing power in their local economies - but very different levels of purchasing power if they wish to visit each other, which asymmetry will inevitably be compounded over time.

My basic point is that it's a matter of luck whether you are born in country A or B, but ceteris paribus there will be a significant and increasing opportunity gap through no fault or merit of the individuals involved. This is in my view a Bad Thing.

I am sorry for not laying this out more clearly, and by using the phrase 'transfer of wealth' I may have obscured my point. I agree that Pb primarily benefits from the whole economy of country B, but invite you to consider the low and inevitably worsening bargaining position of Pa (and by extension, the whole of A) in any kind of international transaction.

Is A a worse country because of some moral deficiency? Absent a specific and obvious cause, that conclusion might be the result of a 'just world fallacy.' Regardless, this is of little comfort to Pa, who can hardly be held morally responsible for the past failings of the society in which s/he originates.

You are assuming that everyone is entitled to an equal share of the wealth of the world, irrespective of who produced it, and why.

First, this is at least as strong an assumption as the just world hypothesis, and at least as poorly supported. As it happens, invoking the "just world fallacy" is usually a sign that one is about to commit a fallacy that is just as bad. In fact, I would say it is worse, from a series of theoretical and practical considerations.

In my previous comment I have already shown an example of how your hypothesis (I am going to be charitable and not refer to it as a fallacy) leads you to a paradox. But there are many more.

Consider people born at different times of history. Do people who were born in the past suffer an injustice from the people who live in the present? "Well, but I can't do anything about it." Not for the ones who were born two hundred years ago, but what about fifty? You are clearly a young guy. Maybe even more of your income should be taxed and given to the baby boomers, to compensate them for the injustice of having been born in an age without the internet. (This is starting to look like a just world hypothesis applied to the system of defined benefit pensions...)

It gets worse. Demographically, socialism is the ideology of bourgeoise youths who hate their parents. Psychologically, its root is the rejection of one's parents, and of the advantages received from them. Therefore, guilt for "unearned privilege". But while it is true that the child did not earn the privilege, it is not true that it was not earned. It was not earned by the child, but it was earned for him, by his parents. (It is not a coincidence that adults, and especially married people, are more likely to be conservative.)

So try putting yourself in the shoes of the people whose work produced that wealth, which their children now inherit. Do they not get a say in who gets it? (Remember that they are already suffering from the injustice of being born in the past, so by denying them a say we are adding injustice to injustice.)

And of course, it does not stop at material wealth. There are all sorts of advantages (or disadvantages) one inherits from one's parents, in terms of education, social network, genetics, and so on. The family is the fundamental unit for the generation and transmission of inequality. Which is why the early socialists, who were intellectually honest, made it their explicit program to abolish the family.

Of course, there are many social problems with destroying the family. But there are also economic problems! Being able to transmit wealth to one's progeny is an extremely strong incentive for economic activity and growth beyond pure self-sustenance. In fact, property and inheritance are universal to all developed human civilizations: all of those proto-communist tribes anthropologists found never got much further than the stone age. The most likely conclusion is that they cannot: property and inheritance (in other words, inequality) appear to be an essential social technology that is required for development. The best a communist can hope for is that they may become unnecessary at some later stage of technological super-abundance, when we can all go off and play cowboys in space.

But we ended up focusing on economic factors again. Your idea of equality has much broader implications, though. If you say that the luck of one's birth is injustice, you cannot limit that to wealth. Differences in intelligence are unjust. Differences in attractiveness are unjust. We could go on and develop all the implications, but I'm going to stop here.

It sounds real nice which is why this idea is so pervasive but it just doesn't hold up to reality.

The employment effect of the minimum wage is one of the most studied topics in all of economics. This report examines the most recent wave of this research – roughly since 2000 – to determine the best current estimates of the impact of increases in the minimum wage on the employment prospects of low-wage workers. The weight of that evidence points to little or no employment response to modest increases in the minimum wage.


> to modest increases in the minimum wage

"Modest" here seems like an unproven assumption. The gap between the Puerto Rican economy and US state economies is much larger than the gap between, say, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

As far as I know there's no real disagreement on the direction of the labor demand curve. If you put the minimum wage at $40/hour (or $10/hour in China) it would have massive consequences.

So even granting the 'little or no' result, we haven't proved the "modest increase" charge for Puerto Rico.

>If they can't produce enough value to justify minimum wages

There are alternative views on this. Marx's theory for example says that workers are not paid according to the value they create, or what their labour creates, rather they are paid at the rate which is required to sustain them. The commodity which the worker produces and sells is termed 'labour power', requiring among other things food, enough to support a family if he has one and some amount in accordance with the moral character of society, varying with supply and demand accordingly. This is the minimum that needs paying.

So Marx would say that wage has nothing to do with value created. It only has to do with the value of labour power, which is equal to the value needed for the worker to sustain himself.

Marx is trivially easy to refute. Try this exercise: See how far you're going to get with your startup by offering to pay software engineers "enough to sustain them".

This is cartoonish. I can't believe people say stuff like this in the 21st century.

>See how far you're going to get with your startup by offering to pay software engineers "enough to sustain them".

This is not a refutation. Just like the raw materials used for production, the means of production, land rent etc. what is purchased is a commodity. Labour-time is that commodity. It makes good business sense to not only buy commodities at their value (and no more) but even to try and buy commodities under their value.

Why do you think labour-power is any different? It must be paid in accordance with its value, and how much extra is minimally required to ensure the continuance of the production of this commodity.

>The owner of labour-power is mortal. If then his appearance in the market is to be continuous, and the continuous conversion of money into capital assumes this, the seller of labour-power must perpetuate himself, "in the way that every living individual perpetuates himself, by procreation." The labour-power withdrawn from the market by wear and tear and death, must be continually replaced by, at the very least, an equal amount of fresh labour-power. Hence the sum of the means of subsistence necessary for the production of labour-power must include the means necessary for the labourer's substitutes, i.e., his children, in order that this race of peculiar commodity-owners may perpetuate its appearance in the market.

>Included in the value of labour power is both a physical component (the minimum physical requirements for a healthy worker) and a moral-historical component (the satisfaction of needs beyond the physical minimum which have become an established part of the lifestyle of the average worker). The value of labour power is thus a historical norm, which is the outcome of a combination of factors: productivity; the supply and demand for labour; the assertion of human needs; the costs of acquiring skills; state laws stipulating minimum or maximum wages, the balance of power between social classes, etc.

If the capitalist paid for labour-power at more than its value consistently, in the long run the capitalist will tend to make no profit at all. Profit originates in surplus value being extracted, and although there is leeway (there is a rate of surplus value, for example 0.6, though it could be 0.3 and the capitalist would still make a profit) any sensible capitalist will aim for the largest extraction possible.

Yet Puerto Ricans don't live in a Marxist society, so I'm not sure how his ideas apply here.

What was cited was Marx's views on how things work in a capitalist society, not his ideal of how they should work in a Communist one, so the fact that PR isn't Marxist is irrelevant to it applicability.

Well maybe they should. I'm not a communist, but the idea that there is only one valid economic model that is true and best for all sizes and stages of society sounds just a little bit convenient for the people promoting said model.

You don't feed a baby steak. That doesn't mean steak is bad, it means it's not what a baby needs or can use until its older.

Marx was describing capitalism in his critique of political economy, Capital. Puerto Ricans definitely live in capitalism.

A Marxist society (or, Communist) does not have wage labour at all.

> Puerto Ricans definitely live in capitalism.

Puerto Ricans definitely live in a mixed economy, not the system that Marx described as capitalism, but it arguably shares the salient features of capitalism that Marx was addressing in the excerpt under discussion.

What is a mixed economy? The definition of capitalism I use is based on the capitalist mode of production, that is, how goods are made within a capitalist economy, viz. production to maximise exchange value over use value, the primacy of wage labour, private (and yes, this can include the state's) ownership of social means of production, and most social production is for the goal of capital accumulation.

In my opinion this is enough to say that a particular society is 'capitalist', though like all words there are variety of nuances and exceptions and additions that can be attached. Capitalism in my view neither necessitates nor excludes government controls on production, social democratic policies, taxes, the state (except for defense of private property) etc.

A good example of a capitalist (state capitalist) country is the Soviet Union.

> There are alternative views on this.

Since in the post you were responding to, I was challenging the premise you quoted, I think that I am quite aware that there are alternative views to it.

I apologise, I was more aiming to bring to light a particular alternative for wage labour, rather than trying to bring to attention that there are alternative theories in general. I didn't mean to imply that you are ignorant.

I've heard this a few times and think I agree. Anyone in disagreement on this? Would love to hear an opposing view.

Two (heavily loaded) questions.

First: what you do with a debt is to you pay it off

Why? not all debts are created equal. Some contracts are unconscionable, and there's a related question of why people should be obligated on contracts that were negotiated on their behalf but in bad faith. I'm not saying that describes all of Puerto Rico's debts, but bad faith contracts are common enough that that they shouldn't just be passively accepted.

Of course I know this has been litigated a lot already and I don't expect you to start over that whole process from the beginning, but I'm always a bit skeptical of blanket moral assertions like this.

Second: I presume that, like most places, there are a lot of poor but more-or-less honest people who know little of complex business and governance affairs but are heavily impacted by them, to their economic detriment; and I presume further that there are rather fewer people who are expert at conducting such affairs, and have enriched themselves through this knowledge without having provided equitable value in return to those they have been dealing with.

Has anyone explored the idea of prosecuting the latter group and confiscating ill-gotten gains? While doing so risks infringing upon cherished concepts of property rights and due process if not conducted correctly, bankruptcy is a singular event that results from some breakdown or conceptual weakness of The Rules, and in collective contexts it seems only natural that the pain of bankruptcy should be distributed in approximate proportion to the pleasure that preceded the bankruptcy.

After all, one of the practical benefits of wealth is the ability to spend a lot of resources on placing procedural barriers between your wealth and anyone else who might want to make a claim upon it, whereas poor people are generally limited to hoping their door is strong enough to keep out wolves. The degree of legal or physical security you can afford is not necessarily correlated with the validity of one's moral claim on the property in question.

What I would love to get from this, is an open government.

I can't trust the government on the island. We got in the mess because of them. They've been slowly getting us more in debt. They've lied. It wasn't until the island was $70 billion dollars in debt that they came out talking. And now we have the son of the most governor that had the most people investigated by the FBI.

I can't blame him for the actions of his dad. But I can't trust the government.

I can't trust that they will bring in a firm to analyze the debt and be fully transparent. The government is the client of the firm. There will be NDA's in there. They will have a statement somewhere with something like, "with the data/access we've been provided, this is what we understand..."

I can't trust it.

If we can get our hands on the data. If we can analyze it. If we can get experts on it. Publish everything and be transparent about it. We can make a non profit. Ask for contributions (so people are able to claim that) and analyze everything.

- How much do we actually owe? - What should we pay first? - Based on the terms, what has the highest positive/negative impact on the island? - From what we owe, what is actually legally binding? (apparently there are some terms that may not be 100% legal)

This is what I want. For us as citizens to come together and do this. For us to be able to answer our own questions.

But people just keep saying things along the lines of,

> We aren't happy with what you are doing, fix it. > We need this fixed. > We don't want the university or anything to get funding cut off, but fix this. > O'neill bellaco (something else going on on the island in regards to the mayor of a town regarding sexual harassment complains)

The people living in Puerto Rico, the people of Puerto Rico living outside the island, we all need to come together and at least analyze the fucking mess we are in.

Tenemos que resolver nuestros problemas. Pero para poder resolverlos, debemos analizarlos, entenderlos y tener un plan de acción. (We need to fix the issues. In order to do so, we need to analyze it, understand it, and have a plan to execute).

We need the data. Even if they make some law where they pardon everyone involved/implicated in issues because of it, we need the data to understand the mess we are in.

Thanks for your wonderfully comprehensive reply. I'm very interested in PR and would love to visit sometime but I really only know what I read in the newspaper. It's great to get a first-hand perspective from a lifetime resident.

> I don't leave because: it's where I was born, where I have lived my entire life, and it is, honestly, paradise.

I left. I was born there too. It was my entire life. I agree, it is paradise.

But your line just makes me think of the #YoNoMeQuité or #YoNoMeQuito thing. Don't let it turn into it.

I had to leave my family. My mom just had to have surgery and I wasn't there. My grandparents are old and not doing great health wise. My sister is trying to finish graduate school. My friends. I had a job, was making good money (that's not the reason I left) and I now have a remote job and still I can't move back.


For others, there is a big controversy with people saying (and shaming) others with the hashtags, #YoNoMeQuité (I didn't leave/quit) or YoNoMeQuito (I'm not leaving/quitting).

The reasons why people leave are theirs. It's not easy deciding to do it and it's not for us to comment on it.

I just hope this comment doesn't open the door to others who find the thread.

It is truly sad. However don't shift all the blame to the politicians. You live in a democracy where you the people are responsible for the actions your representatives take. Years of demands for more services, more facilities, more money, more wage rises, beyond your willingness to pay for them in taxes have led to this.

I work in my state's government. My friends poke fun at my salary, but still vote for the representatives that waste time by proposing Transgender bathroom bans and fight against 1% wage increases for government employees.

> As is typical, decisions by politicians placed us in this situation. Decade after decade, 4-year term after 4-year term, the government has spent money it does not have. Be one political party or the other, it is the same thing.

As is typical, electors always voted for people making financially irresponsible promises, and not for people proposing to try and control the bills. Politicians are only to blame as much as voters.

Same thing happened in Italy after WW2, and we (the young) are suffering enormously for the debt contracted by previous generations.

As an argentinian, i can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, you can default. Frequently and periodically if you wish so :).

I can imagine a large write-off that will come with some fiscal reform.

With all the out of control government spending (in this case but also in general), I wonder... what did Puerto Rico get for all its borrowing? Obviously they spent the money but... on what?

IIRC it was fuel for energy production. While other islands changed to other energy sources PR kept burning oil. So the spike in costs a few years ago probably hurt.

There is also a large portion of the population receiving government jobs or support.

I'm an accountant and do not think this is the end or even a bad thing necessarily. I know PR is attached to the US Dollar but any dollar has to originate and then be entered into the economy, which is usually done by crediting/lending institutions.

If you look at the entirety of the economy, bankruptcy is inevitable to some level or money has to be made somewhere. There is simply too much cash flow at any given time to say what countries owe what to who because if every country was debt free then there would be absolutely no currency.

Even Trump has filed bankruptcy FOUR times, including defaulting entirely on a multi-billion dollar loan but he gained value through the process. I'm not saying anyone should accept defaulting on any payments but the effects of looking at an entire economy are not necessary the same. The first time PR asked for money, the value of the dollar in PR was then multipled on top of itself every time additional currency was acquired from the US. If PR was going to completely get out of debt, then it would need a large amount to be shot straight into the economy, just like this.

There is so much more to it and nobody knows what will happen, just like we don't know what the stock market will do at a sound of a bell.

Best of luck thou

I am happy to hear the decisions of voters - putting corrupted populist in charge over and over - has nothing to do with the situation. Bad bad politicians!

Not just overspending, but also quite a bit of corruption. I remember my parents complaining that PR senators got better job perks than US senators.

What are your thoughts on Puerto Rico becoming the 51st State of the USA? I ask this as a native (mainland) born American who always thought this would be an interesting approach to solve the problem of finances in PR. Is it even well supported or is it a crazy idea?

I was born and raised in PR, but have since moved.

100% of our politics surround this very question. The 3 mayor political parties are one pro statehood, one pro staying with the current status, one pro independence. The first two have always dominated, and only these past elections we had a candidate without a party make a dent in elections.

I'm saying all this to say, that the statehood (or lack of) is a very complex subject for Puerto Rico, both for real logical reasons and also for equally valid emotional ones.

To keep it simple though, statehood is a possibility, in as far as there may be a time where a majority may desire it. However, Puerto Rico doesn't really have much say on, other than voting to say if PR as a whole are in favor of it or not. So far, past votes, the results are no. But even if it's ever a "yes", we don't control it that happens or not. The US does.

> So far, past votes, the results are no.

Technically the 2012 vote was 'yes' but all of the votes so far have been framed poorly. And that includes the upcoming one, which is likely going to make it a waste of time; Puerto Rico needs a simple and clear referedum on 'Statehood Yes or No'.

Which makes sense. Was the 2012 the one with a question in the form of,

"Are you okay with the current status or do you want a change?"

Because we ALL want a change. First, we want to know what the actual current status is. Then we want to know our options.

The GOP will not allow this because it would tip the scales towards the Dems.

US states are in big financial trouble too -- Illinois. Statehood is a distraction, not a solution.

As a non-Puerto Rican, I have my own selfish reasons for wanting statehood: Can we make Spanish an official language already, please? I like the idea of Puerto Rican statehood, because I believe it would force our country (i.e. the US as a whole) to reconsider this issue.

Why would USA want PR as 51? What benefit is there?

PR has more debt that California, and zero industry except for Bacardi rum.

Name one thing made in PR?

We own you but we don't want to give you more rights because we can't figure out how to profit enough of you. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Assuming you were born in the USA, why were you born there rather than in Puerto Rico? Was this a matter of skill and judgment on your part, or just luck? If so, what basis do you have for denying the rights you enjoy to others who live in a territory rather than a state?


Welcome to Earth?

U.S.A was also once owned by another country and it managed to figure something out.

I lived in PR for a few months in 2014, every week I would learn more and more about how much of a disaster that island is.

I wish them luck cause it's going to be hard to get things going again.

So you're suggesting they go to war for independence?

This is the 21st century - any self-respecting democracy should respect the right to self-determination.

> Why would USA want PR as 51? What benefit is there?

Wasn't the USA founded on the principle of no taxation without representation? On a principle of enfranchisement? On a principle of self-determination?

Although Puerto Ricans do pay certain local and federal taxes, they do not pay income taxes like citizens of US States do.

They also pay full medicare and social security tax, but only receive ~15% of the medicare benefits they would be entitled to on the mainland.

The tax/benefits situation is complicated.


First, not all states pay income tax.

On the other side, you have people with federal jobs that are taxed federally.

Then you have other people with registered companies in the US which pay federal taxes in the US, the state it's registered in, then also pay taxes locally.

-- It's complicated.

> First, not all states pay income tax.

Are you talking about states of Puerto Rico?

In the US, no states pay income tax, but residents of every state pay federal income tax.

Well by that logic, what would the USA want with PR as a colony? Why not let them be free? Because it is the USA. You could say the same about what would you want with $ALL_POOR_STATES_IN_THE_SOUTH, but we want them too!

I think the United States would happily not deal with Puerto Rico and it's tens of billions of dollars of debt, but almost no one in Puerto Rico wants to be 'free' (independent).

Puerto Rican statehood and / or independence is not up to the citizens of PR by themselves, its up to the whole of the US.

The reasons for the civil war demonstrate why state / territory autonomy are subservient to the will of the majority.

Yup, like Lord of the Flies, and in specific:


This is also why the Electoral College exists, as annoying as it can be, it makes sense.

Lots of our pharmaceuticals are made there due to favorable tax laws.

There is a lot of pharmaceutical manufacturing in PR. Also, textiles and electronics. Tourism and financial services are also significant. Rum is a tiny sector.

It's my understanding that almost all of it that can has left the island.

Wiki had data up until ~2013 and things haven't exactly improved since then. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Puerto_Rico

Not trying to be a troll about this but in a democracy is it really honest to say "it wasn't the people who spent all this money it was the politicians"? Yes we can caveat that no democracy is perfect but PR isn't North Korea either.

So the (selfish) question is: Is now a good or bad time to take a vacation in PR?

Same as always. If you do visit make sure to email me. Ill take you out to a nice dinner.

Do you have any recommendations for first-time visitors? Apart from Culebra we have no idea what we want to see.

Absolutely. Go to the west side to Cabo Rojo. Eat some great fresh seafood. Then head to Lajas (15 min drive) at night to see the bioluminiscent bay (wear jeans and bring mosquito repelent). Then go to the east side and end up in Fajardo. Visit El Yunque and then eat some local delicacies in los kioskos. After all that, call me, and Ill take you to my dads hacienda where Ill serve some rice and beans while you relax in a hammock and look at El Yunque from a distance.

How much Spanish should I try and pick up? Will it help?

If you love to travel, you should pick up as much Spanish as you possibly can! The best analogy I can think of is that it's like learning to scuba dive - it grants you access to a whole new fantastic world that you previously could only spectate on TV. Latin America is huge and diverse and wonderful (for that matter, Spain is pretty awesome too).

In touristy areas you'll be fine.

Most people will be able to understand you. If not, you'll figure it out quick by their expression and you can adjust your words/speed.

While we have local music/tv, most of the media is from the US. We are taught both languages from kindergarten, but like everywhere, some schools are better than others.

None. You'll do fine. Just get used to being called a gringo (slang for american).

Sounds good!

Unless you have your own currency and a central bank and presumably some control over it. Then you can inflate away your debt.

It's a lot easier when you are allowed to make your own money.

...or have people pay taxes to you.

Don't worry USA is on the same path.


Local here chiming in. Ive managed to work remotely for the past 6 years but have decided to move to the states. Anyone interested in an experienced Python/Django dev with an eye for product email me. Ive also been a tech lead as well. :)

> and what you do with a debt is to you pay it off

No, there is no "you" here. Politicians accrued those debts on something else's bill in exchange for legal bribe schemes.

Nobody owes those debts, legally or morally.

The people and the creditors both were trolled by professional hustlers exploiting the public liability and private benefit design features of socialism.

Democratic leaders, who are human and subject to economic incentives, almost inevitably play the game of trading the future earnings of another administration for the benefit of their own administration.

Government leaders have 130+ IQs[1], the populace has 100 if it's lucky. It's relatively trivial for them to craft a spin to consistently leverage these vulnerabilities.


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