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$250 Trillion in Debt: The World’s Post-Lehman Legacy (bloomberg.com)
222 points by rayvy 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 195 comments

If there's one single life-encompassing economic event this decade, it will be the emerging market financial crisis. The chart in the article clearly shows emerging market ex China going from 16 trillion to 29 trillion in 10 years. And China has incredibly gone from 7 trillion to 40 trillion debt in 10 years - 300% debt to GDP (not even counting another 20 trillion shadow debt, which would make it incredibly 450% debt to GDP!!) ((and if you take into account fake GDP that Chinese provinces have reported, and that authoritarian governments typically fake their economic growth, and reduce the reported GDP by 20%, it's a jaw dropping 600% debt to GDP !!!))

The emerging market crisis will accelerate pretty quickly, as soon as one or two more fed rate hike occurs, or as soon as more tariffs get levied on China from US, or any of the other black swan event that may occur (hyperinflation in other emerging markets, internal politics struggle or death of Xi Jing Ping in China, etc) . Interesting times we live in. Stay safe.

Before freaking out about CHINA IS DOOMED, look at the historic record.

From 1957 to 2017, per capita GDP in China grew from $68.24 to $8830.17. That's over a thousand times more productive. You can angst about faked numbers or whatever all you like, but the trends are plainly obvious here. China's economy has grown consistently at an extraordinary rate for a long time now, and there's no obvious evidence that a collapse is just around the corner.

What an odd comment to make :) It's true you can ignore all economic reality and focus on growth (fake or real). But history time and time again has shown that NOBODY escapes economic reality. Nothing goes up forever.

"Debt, we've learned, is the match that lights the fire of every crisis. Every crisis has its own set of villains - pick your favorite: bankers, regulators, central bankers, politicians, overzealous consumers, credit rating agencies - but all require one similar ingredient to create a true crisis: too much leverage."

I'm not sure it's that odd a comment - I've seen arguments that China is going to run into problems with too much debt, poor infrastructure projects and the like for 30 years or so and it so far hasn't really happened. There are a number of reasons why:

Firstly as mentioned there has been a lot of real economic growth. I was there around 1983 when GDP per capita was about $300, there were almost no cars and hardly enough food. Now they are the worlds largest economy by PPP GDP with 4WDs, air pollution and the like.

Secondly the debt is mostly in Yuan which the government can print. 3rd world countries typically go bust when they borrow in foreign currency. With China I believe it's the other way around - they hold a lot of US bonds so the US effectively owes dollars to China, not the other way around.

Thirdly the socialist system for better or worse means the government can just delay paying debt. In the west if developers borrow billions to build empty flats them and or the banks that lent to them go bust, in China they just give them another decade to pay. This can lead to misallocation of capital - all the resources going to useless empty flats rather than productive stuff but seeing the first point about GDP it can't be too bad.

The above is economic reality. Some stuff does keep going up - entropy, US GDP per capita with occasional blips and maybe Chinese GDP with blips also.

Who's that quote attributable to, with a link if you have one? It's brilliant.

Thanks. Brilliant article too.

Okay, let's look at history. Since about 3800 B.C. there have been something like 500 economic cycles.

499 of them have ended in a financial crisis. Most in minor debt crises, a few in larger events (like 1929 or 2008).

This one will end just like all others. There will be a financial crisis to end it.

I mean, this has been happening for so long the Bible talks about it. Trust me, trust economists, or trust the lord: it will happen.

There is another pattern. Crises, from one to the next, tend to get worse and worse until they cause really large scale collapses. The Roman Empire encountered worse and worse financial crises until finally the republic was destroyed by the empire, and eventually because the provinces broke away. The 1929 crisis ... perhaps this is a bit simplifying, but not really ... caused WWII.

On the other hand, the 1979-1982 crisis was pretty severe and yes was followed by a large expansion and a mild, at worst, crisis ended that one.

But this is not a stretch at all:

1) economic expansion (in China, the US, and elsewhere) WILL end (100% chance). And it will end soon (China, and the world for that matter, are in one of the longest continuous economic expansions in the history of the world. Meaning right now it's already very exceptionally long, if not THE longest)

2) it will restart. Maybe it'll take a war, maybe (1 in 100 chance at worst) even collapse. But it will restart. Now that's easy to see, but 1 year into the crisis that will inevitably occur that's not going to be so easy to see.

> From 1957 to 2017, per capita GDP in China grew from $68.24 to $8830.17. That's over a thousand times more productive.

8830/68 = 130, not 1000. And is that $68 in 2018 dollars or 1957 dollars?

Going on the likely answer that its in 1957 dollars that is $595 in 2017 dollars. Instead of being 1000x more productive its 15x more productive in 60 years. In the same time frame the US increased per capita GDP by 6x for reference.

Y'know, instead of "likely answer", you could fact-check it.

2018 dollars. The vast majority of China in the 1950s and earlier lived in extreme poverty.

Also, I realize I meant a thousand percent, not a thousand times. My bad on that one. China is merely 130 times more productive (in 2018 dollars) than they were 60 years ago. Which I don't think disproves my point.

In case anyone was wondering, $68 in 1957 is equivilent to $607 in 2018.

And it was over a hundred times more productive (rather than a thousand), even with the original numbers. With the inflation-adjusted numbers, it's over ten times more productive. (Still nothing to sneeze at...)

The numbers were already inflation-adjusted. Even given my percent-vs-times goof (my bad), the Chinese economy is 130 times more productive than it was 60 years ago.

People are assuming the numbers weren't inflation-adjusted because it's so hard to believe. But it's true.

No one significant is predicting a doom/collapse (which parent didn’t mention either, so I guess you are just putting out a red herring), but China is definitely due for a crash/financial crisis to wash out all of the economic bad blood/distortions that has accumulated from its rise. There is plenty of evidence that the real estate market will go bust in the next few years.

China could get stronger after a crash as it’s economy gets dosed with realism, or depending on how the government manages it, it could be in for a Japan-style lost decade or two.

>No one significant is predicting a doom/collapse

No one significant predicted the biggest economic collapse since the great depression either.

The Great Recession was nowhere near a collapse, it was a crash/recession, even the depression wasn’t really a collapse, the USA clearly recovered from it within a decade. A collapse is like Venezuela ATM and Zimbabwe before.

Collapse precludes a recovery in the near term, and means some sort of government or dynastic change. Collapse language is used in contrast to a much normal crash.

And crashes do happen a lot in China. Just recently there was the P2P lending crash.

Ya, and obviously the stock market. But none of these have been big enough to cause a full blown financial crisis. China hasn’t had one of those since the 90s.

They do some bloodletting to let off some pressure from time to time. This pushes the full blown crisis further down the road. However this time they are in an obvious bind over the real estate price boom and there is no easy way out.

The can kicking only makes the eventual crisis even worse. Real estate is one area of weakness waiting to blow but debt, especially local government and SOE, is definitely another.

It doesn't matter if they have been growing.

What matters is 'do they have more to grow'.

And even if that answer is 'yes' (and I think it is), the next question is 'how level will that be'?

Because the bag will change hands many times. There can be pops and bubbles.

There could definitely be crashes where some lose their shirts - and the system is broken enough that they are unable to actually achieve all of that growth that we know they can do.

Maybe other countries ramp up on manufacturing quicker than we thought.

Maybe factory automation outpaces china.

Maybe there's a conflict that pops a bubble, or internal unrest.

Heck - maybe Trump's trade war really pulls the rug out.

All possible.

At what real economic cost? GDP, we’ve discovered, is an accounting method that doesn’t account for climate change, for example.

Maybe that doesn’t agree with your politics. How about all the people harmed by China’s wars? What about its own victims, like victims of the Great Leap Forward? The latter happened within its borders, but that reduces the denominator.

A one child policy reduces the denominator too. What would China’s population be today, its per capita GDP, if the denominator was larger?

Fine, don’t angst about faked numbers. But do you seriously believe that the GDP per capita isn’t massively hacked to the benefit of the CPC? And even then, is the average Chinese still being below the American poverty line something to celebrate?

Just because the number has grown doesn’t mean it would not have been higher in a free society.

you're arguing a different argument.

China today is better than China yesterday is a fact. Their economy is growing, rapidly, and life is improving for the average Chinese person. This is also true.

Your last statement, that China would have improved under a different (better) organizational system might also be true (its one I happen to agree with). But that does not, in any way, mean the previous paragraph of this response is any less true.

I wonder how well this comment will age. Interesting times indeed.

Is China's debt like Japan or Greece... i.e. does it owe itself (like japan) or someone else? If it owes itself would that not contain the fallout of a debt crisis?

Emerging and international developed markets performed extremely well last year. Part of the under-performance this year is from the US dollar rising.

On an enterprise value basis the US looks more expensive than both international and emerging markets[1].

[1] https://allocatesmartly.com/asset-allocation-roundup-2/?aff=...

emerging market crisis already happening in Russia, Turkey and Venezuela

Could you provide information about Russia? I don’t see anything recent suggesting they are in a crisis.

Turkey is in a classic emerging market debt crisis, whereas Venezuela is a somewhat special case where oil prices are high and they have enormous reserves but they’re terribly mismanaged (to provide a huge understatement). Not saying you’re wrong about Venezuela, but they’re not the typical textbook case of an emerging market debt problem.

Actually the current price per barrel is almost half of what Venezuela needed to remain competitive, because even though they have enormous reserves, they are hard to extract. Since their primary export (and thus the commodity that makes up the majority of forex to/from Bolivares) is crude oil, the only possible response to this was massive inflation.

Russian economy is stagnating, but there is certainly no crisis atm. The government has also accumulated a pretty large money stash over the last decade, like 3-4 yearly budgets. So I guess we're more or less safe for the next few years.

There's no contraction in Russia, that's true. But the risk there is the heavy reliance on oil (not a reliable economic basis) and on imports from China. Russia gave up a lot of the internal production capacity in the past.

I don't know how accurate this is or if the research is actually from Morgan Stanley. Russia is not in a crisis...


What's happening in Turkey? I've only really heard about the political shenanigans going on in the last couple years

At the very least, 15%+ inflation, currency issues.

Contraction last 2 quarters in South Africa

I'm not sure if you've been paying attention to equity prices. EM crisis, yield curve flattening, currency volatility, upcoming rate hikes, near-record P/E ratios, NONE OF IT MATTERS. Investors are bidding the ES and the QQQ to infinity no matter what the economic reality on the ground is.

The debt only matters when people call in their chits. Debt, similar to money, us a claim on future production. As long as people are willing to wait, and not get paid too much for waiting, everything will work out ok.

We'll see if interest rates stay low long enough.

So, should I be in 100% cash right now?

Don't try to time the market unless you dont have any cash savings. Have enough cash to last 6-12 months without a job and invest the rest. You'll do better that way than trying to time the market.

12 months. 6 months is not enough in an extended recession.

Disclaimer: 2008 GFC experience (company folded, had to walk away from primary residence, etc, took 8+ months to find another job while burning through mortgage payments, medical/living expenses). Experience described in this comment and those below are so others can make more informed decisions than I did.

Biggest thing is to reduce spending. The closer to zero you can get on spending, the longer you can survive.

I dont live in a place where I can afford a home, and Im actually seeing that as an advantage at this point- my investments are relatively liquid compared to a house, especially in a depressed/shocked market. It's not an asset until its sold- no mortgage, no problem.

Not paying for my mother's prescriptions and medical care she needed to survive wasn't an option. I had to pick between the house and her care, and the house went. No regrets about the decision.

Ah, I'm Canadian so having to sacrifice everything for loved ones health-care didn't occur to me. That'd be a horrible position to be put in.

Right perspective. You did the right thing even when it was financially painful. Props to you.

Thanks, I really appreciate that.

If the assets are liquid enough, 6 months may be enough to sell them.

My money market fund withdrawals were halted temporarily when the NAV broke the buck. I have 1 month cash on hand in a safe, the rest of it is in an FDIC high yield savings account I have access to immediately with a debit card.

Liquidity is a sliding scale when the economy is melting down. Fool me once.

As a Brit I feel somewhat fuckup-proofed by being long US equity funds. Both EM collapse and Brexit £ collapse would benefit them.

I still have a couple of gold sovereigns from the last financial crisis, at roughly the same value I bought them. Mostly as a reminder to ignore the goldbugs.

My opinions are not of financial advice :) You can make money on a downturn as well as an upturn

no, but you should avoid foreign stocks and emerging markets. I think the S&P 500 has a lot of juice left

S&p 500 still have significant exposure to emerging markets.

Couldn't you short EM to hedge this?

Don't short if can't afford to. Remember shorting has unlimited risk. What you should do is buy a put option, if possible.

Not cash in form of paper money or coins, but rather silver coins, preferrably 80% pure. These are sold by bags by main silver sellers such as Monex.

The point being if economy goes to shit that beautiful $100 bill you can spend to feed your family with lobsters will be worth as much and only as much as the paper it was printed on (hint - close to zero). In such times we will revert back to hard currency - gold and coins. But don’t buy gold bullion - it will be hard to buy bread with a 15gr gold bullion bar and noone will care to give you change. Hence best are 80% silver bags as a form of daily purchasing power.

The only scenario in which I can see my local grocery store accepting silver coins is in such a situation that my local grocery won’t continue to exist. I’m sure there are some $100 bills to be made by speculating on precious metals, but my local Kroger is never going to be cutting silver coins in half to make change.

Silver is just as valuable as that piece of paper. It really has very little inherit value. Just because it's shiny doesn't make it truly valuable. gold is the same thing. Both have some limited manufacturering usages but at the end of the day they are shiny, similar to that very pretty piece of paper.

> Silver is just as valuable as that piece of paper.

Honestly how can you say that? A piece of crude that comes from Earth (not government printer) that is in somewhat limited quantity, always kept its value, whether governments raised or fell.

Here is a good read for you:


Actually outside of manufacturering purposes it is less valuable than that piece of paper. It's shiny, big deal.

It's a big deal to other people. That is all that matters.

The absolute value is not what is important. These goods have a very useful property: their value remains stable. Even if silver or gold's real value is 1 cent per kilogram and therefore the price premium is something mind boggling like 1000:1 it still doesn't matter as long as this ratio remains the same over time.

The reason why bitcoin and other crypto currencies are not usable as a substitute is because they have massive volatility.

sounds like the answer is bitcoin :)

whatever we put our faith in has value, and I envision our future generation putting their faith behind BTC. Of course, the normies will prob use something else - prob another crypto backed by BTC.

Please no. I am talking about the times in which we go back to basics. You can't be able to freely travel, not to mention communicate, etc (this is the scenario OP draws as when the currency collapse); how can you think there will be sustainable high speed internet connecting miners to sustain a bitcoin blockchain.

Why would anyone be wanting silver coins for that bread?

because when government based fiat collapsed, we will go back to basic. Gold and silver is knows for thousands of years to be somewhat valuable assets, comparing to paper you carry in your wallet that only holds value when government says so.

Unless you have other valuables, such as a nice watch or necklace silver in general will be a value you can exchange for first needs stuff such as bread, meat, water.

But why would I want silver coins in such a situation? I can't eat them, and I can't use them for any actual purpose.

seems like its in china's longterm strategic interest to derive as much infrastructure and domestic development as possible from the international economy and then eventually crater it to defeat their international political enemies

Reminder: $250t debt is $250t assets on someone else's balance sheet. The money is not owed to aliens but to other humans.

Finding who is is owed to is harder. A big chunk is pension funds, insurers and so on, where one person's debt is another person's retirement savings. Which must increase overall as life past retirement does.

But a large chunk is assets of financial industries and the super wealthy, and in order for it to be net paid down they have to get poorer - or at least be forced to reallocate to equities.

(Note also that as interest rates drive ever lower debt naturally expands too. If they can be driven negative it becomes an advantage.)

Finding out who owns the debt is harder. Figuring out who will be pulled in to help unwind the debt in a large-scale default scenario is well nigh impossible, because there seems to be a real risk of the losses being socalised to someone. Mentioning that the Cyprus bail-in [1] could happen anywhere makes me feel like a conspiricy theory; except it happened and there is no reason it couldn't happen elsewhere.

$100,000 sounds like a lot until you do the figures on what a responsible person needs to save if they don't want to wear the risk of the social welfare system comes under sustained attack while they are trying to retire. That sort of possibility is ugly, but you'd be mad not to acknowledge it as a potential threat.

I suppose the ultimate point is that when debt becomes unpayable, someone has to wear the losses of assets suddenly ceasing to exist. Anyone with meaningful savings is at risk in a big system-wide events because even if you understand the situation very well the rules can change in a crisis, making it very hard to control risk.

The numbers are bigger now, wages aren't that much better, savings are as low as ever. If 2008 was bad, the next one could be worse in terms of wiping out wealth. Scary time to be facing retirement.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012%E2%80%9313_Cypriot_financ...

> Reminder: $250t debt is $250t assets on someone else's balance sheet.

It's only an asset when people believe they are to be repaid. It's not uncommon for a debt holder to value debt lower than the amount.

So in a perfect world debt = assets, and then some. This conversation is about a possible stressed system. In this scenario it's not fair to say debt is equal to assets and therefore all is ok.

One of the most illuminating comments I heard recently was on a Bloomberg podcast where they made the point that fiat money is a closed system. Money can flow between economic actors, and it can obviously influence behavior, but in both a theoretical and real sense it is really just an abstraction that hovers above the physical world. That's not to deny the economic effects of monetary policy, but I do think it helps clarify a lot of monetary phenomena.

It is not exactly closed. We also pump new money into the system based on our models for the actual increase of the gdp. Many times our models are off and we create inflation because of this (even if someone has no agenda).

Yep, but the same applies to debt as well. A contractual IOU may say seem abstract but it can be almost as valuable as the money itself (sometimes more valuable, with attached APR).

That doesn't seem like a closed system, though? The main limit on debt is the market's willingness to keep buying it. Figure out a way of increasing trust and it can go higher.

It's not, which is one of the great benefits of being able to harness debt financing.

Yes. It's deeply out of fashion but trade balances are also important. If your country is producing more than it's consuming then debt is unlikely to become a problem.

Language and mathematics are two more abstractions that "... hovers above the physical world."

True. It's important to remember debt isn't a perfectly liquid asset because one or more countries may decide it's not worth repaying, then it becomes tantamount to a pyramid scheme of borrowing. If/when that happens, the power of the West may fall into slightly different hands of mafia-types as did the Soviet Union. Greece also comes to mind.

One interesting thing to consider is that countries holding larger and larger amounts of each others debt could be stabilizing in geopolitics. If your neighbor owes you $100 you aren't going to punch him because you would never get the money back.

Oh, debts survive wars. They can often outlive countries. France is still paying a single annuity from 1738, although countries have learned not to issue eternal debts since then.

And it took the UK until December 2006 to finally repay the USA and Canada their WW2 debts http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk/6215847.stm

...has the UK changed governments since then? I must’ve missed that.

They usually don't. What you are taking about is worth only 1.20 euros a year.


Germany is paying the Catholic (?) church nearly half a million every year because of a contract from 1803

That's true, but somewhat dependent on which currency the debt is denominated in.

Default is definitely a thing, as are bondholder "haircuts", but that's what the IMF is for. They're coercive but not corrosive to the rule of law like mafia. Former Soviet union oligarchs came about due to privatization rather than debt.

Is there a scenario you can envision where the Soviet Union didn't devolve into a mafia state? Or is that the most stable equilibrium given its history?

Well, other former communist states did better, such as Poland, Romania, the Baltics, Hungary.

The problem was really that the prize was too big. Russia had the oil production. That made it worthwhile doing whatever was necessary to steal control of the money flowing from it.

(Perhaps a more salient question is how and whether the US can be prevented from turning into a mafia state; will the ongoing prosecution roll up the network, or will the network roll up the prosecution?)

> Reminder: $250t debt is $250t assets on someone else's balance sheet. The money is not owed to aliens but to other humans.

The problem is there is no guarantee that those assets on the balance sheet are actually real. This is a global aggregate which is owed from humans now to humans in the future, and using micro-scale accounting identities isn't appropriate.

Those graphs are indicating that real production is insufficient to meet future consumption. When that happens, there are serious consequences.

Those consequences can take the form of deflationary writedowns, an inflating currency, or a combination of both. Whatever the case, the the people of the future don't get the results the people of the present have promised.

You can't judge things based on a 0% default rate. Some of the debt is expected to never be paid back. Lots of high interest debt heavily bakes that in, so counting them as held to maturity with 0% default is just going to make your statement tautological.

> But a large chunk is assets of financial industries and the super wealthy, and in order for it to be net paid down they have to get poorer - or at least be forced to reallocate to equities.

Do you have better data on the super rich? My impression was that they typically own companies and stocks, not T-bills. So if the top 10% don’t own the debt, it’s the next 40% (middle class) that will have to get poorer to reduce debt.

One thing to keep in mind is that government debt is private sector savings. The money in your bank account originated as government spending or private sector borrowing. All money is debt. If the government pays back it's debt, it will make it impossible for you to be solvent. If there was no government debt, there would be no money.

The US government was in debt since this country started, and will remain in debt in the future. The government being in debt is no problem, it's not a household. Government debt is not a problem, private sector debt is.

You should clarify that "assets on someone else's balance sheet" refers to paper assets, which by itself is nothing but a claim and may be as good as no assets. You'd have to track down the use of the debt to find out if there are real assets anywhere.

Wasn't that pretty much the problem of the financial crisis? That a lot of institutions had nothing real on their balance sheets but only paper value which could disappear instantaneously if perceptions change?

No, the problem is that the collateral backstopping the debt lost value, meaning that if people defaulted on the debt the financial institution could not recoup much of the loaned money.

The original money did change hands though. It just ended up with builders, flippers, and real estate agents.

The majority of the debt was synthetics on the underlying, not the original debt.

I think that only affected how easy/hard it was to determine whether the collateral was good or not. passing a note around doesn't really affect the original amount unless there's some premium or discount on the original value.

For example, if 10 people borrow $10 from Alice, she is owed $100. If she packages that as 10 separate loans with one dollar of debt from each person and sells them for $10 each to 10 other people (Bob, Billy, Blake, etc), she's no longer owed anything, but the people downstream she sold it to are. In this case, her reselling has resulted in no additional total debt, but it is harder to tell whether the loan contains deadbeat non-payers or not. If the second set resells again, the obfuscation is even greater.

If Alice or some downstream seller sells for less or more than the original loan for some reason (or with different interest, which can't be forced upstream?), then the total debt amount might change.

In any case, it's still all down to whether the original loans are secure or not. If the people default, and there's no collateral, the end result is no different how many times it's been resold (if no amount has changed), it's just a matter of who is affected and how easy it is to tell whether the loans are of good quality or not.

Although, if I'm mistaken about or missing something, I would definitely like to know.

My knowledge here comes from the film Big Short so take that with a grain of salt lol, but they explained it as a step beyond what you describe in that a synthetic CDO as more a bet or insurance on the underlying bundled debt. So like placing a bet of $1000 that the $100 debt owed to alice wont default.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EEXTqtH-Oo4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_CDO

Do the rich have to pay interest on their debt, or is it just me who has it on his mortgage? I tend to avoid taking loans because of the riscs and because of interest, why do the rich take up this debt?

Generally you take out a loan at X% if you have some opportunity that will pay back >X%.

Also, loans can help with liquidity. I'd rather have $1,000,000 cash and $999,999 in debt than $1 to my name. You can work with a million dollars in ways you can't with $1, even if your net worth is the same.

Everyone pays interest, the rich just pay less because they are less risky.

A rich person might rather buy 5 houses with a 20% down payment and 80% debt rather than 1 house with cash.

Only if those houses make them money or their money yields more than the debts cost.

On the books...debt/liability is offset with either an asset or "expense".

An asset has enduring value, it remains on the books year after year.

An expense however, is only on the books for the current year, then it gets rolled into owner equity. Expense shrinks owner equity. In fact, owner equity can go negative in extreme situations.

A portion (I'm not sure how much) of the $250t in debt was certainly spent on expense. There is no way to get that portion back...the funds do not exist.

Asset and debt are balance sheet quantities. They can be measured at a point in time. Revenues and expenses are flows on the P&L. They are measured over a period of time.

> Which must increase overall as life past retirement does.

I thought age expectancy is starting to drop now.

I don't even really understand how to hedge my bets anymore. It's not like there's an industry that will be left unaffected by the current economic climate and... well, the climate. What exactly am I supposed to be working on/towards if the system itself seems broken?

I'm down to "Hope the problems don't really precipitate in my lifetime, and don't have kids". I don't feel like that's a solution.

The current system is actually quite resilient, because it has the built-in capacity for parts of it to fail without bringing down the whole thing. The situation you should really be afraid of is when everything is fine, you're the envy of the world, the Supreme Leader has your back, right up until there's gunfire in the streets, people are scrambling across the border, there's no food in the supermarkets, there's suddenly a bloody coup in the capital, and enterprising oligarches have pilfered the country's coffers.

In practical terms, you should recognize that this feeling is fear and it is in fact a feeling, and you can choose to own it rather than let it own you. Stay away from the particular enterprises that everyone says are about to collapse, and double-down on whatever assets nobody is paying attention to. Life goes on, and people have to do something, so own the things that people will be interested in over the next few years. It's all a bubble, just do your best to ride it.

There were a few asset classes that were clearly looming bubbles in 2008: housing, CDOs, most hedge funds, Web 2.0 startups. If you were invested in them at the beginning of the year you probably lost your shirt. Meanwhile, if you invested in Bitcoin or mobile or sharing economy startups in 2009, you're likely a millionaire several times over. Housing itself started to become an attractive investment once the crash was over in 2010, with many landlords making 10%+ returns annually since then.

"The current system is actually quite resilient, because it has the built-in capacity for parts of it to fail without bringing down the whole thing."

This is false. It is the hallmark of the current economic order that our systems are very efficient, very interconnected, and very fragile.

I shouldn't care whether or not provincial Chinese governors are faking their economic reports or making bad loans - but of course, I do, since that could have a ripple effect that makes my business suffer. I shouldn't be fragile to that but I am.

Making the system less fragile would require removing some of the interconnections and the efficiencies. Growth and returns would be lower, but failures would be localized and less "interesting".

I actually think parent comment to yours was quite measured and appropriate. Did you fully grok it?

> This is false. It is the hallmark of the current economic order that our systems are very efficient, very interconnected, and very fragile.

What evidence do you have to support this? Even in 07 an index-weighted fund only took 3 years to recover. If you were 50% in bonds, 1 year to recover.

OP was encouraging you to separate your fear from the evidence-backed likelihood that while you may lose a bit in deliveraging, there are also gains to be had in the 10-year term.

If you're feeling that things are fragile right now, adjust your allocation to something more conservative, take a two week vacation, listen to some mindfulness podcasts to calm down, and then think through where it might make sense to put 10% of your bets on 10yr+ plays.

The last 10 years of "recovery" have themselves been on the back of more and more credit and leverage. Pointing to them as some sort of proof that the system is not fragile is an error. The system has much more debt than it did in 2007 and is more fragile than ever. The stock market recovery that comforts you was partially due to central banks such as the BOJ and SNB actually buying stocks. That is not normal. What happens if they need to unwind those positions?

Sometimes people discuss things at a systemic level, rather than a personal level. The person you are lecturing to deleverage may be debt free, with $5M in Gold in a vault, but still be wistful of a less fragile world economic system.

That is a lie. If the system is so resilient then why did the governments had to intervene in 2008?

The financial system is quick to ask for less regulation/less red tape but when comes the time to own their mistakes, they are really happy to get some of that taxpayer money from the government!

We are living today in the biggest bubble of all times. It is the everything bubble. The stock market is hyperinflated with valuations that are completely disconnected from the real economies of the world.

Most of the major economies are so indebted that to even think they would ever repay their debts is just a pipe dream.

Most emerging economies have been having huge political and economic issues in the last few years as well.

Housing bubbles are popping up all over the globe. Major resources are dwindling and our ecosystem is starting to crumble while we are day by day emitting more and more carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

Finally using bitcoin as an example of a great investment is more than dubious. Bitcoin was a gamble in 2009 and is still a gamble today.

> then why did the governments had to intervene in 2008?

To protect the bankers?

To protect the banks customers.

funny joke lol

Not at all. Imagine what would happen to the financial security of a household if their mortgage provider, their current account bank and their employer's bank all went bust at the same time.

The system seems broken only because our brains and society are wired to think negatively. Life has gotten tremendously better for just about the entire world over the past two centuries.

Here's a fun data point for you. From 1997 to 2017, the global extreme poverty rate (people living on less than $2/day) dropped from 29% to 9%. Two thirds of the people at the bottom got out of that bottom, in the past twenty years alone. That's amazing.

It's is, but it still doesn't change the fact that venezuella sucks right now, not because of tremendous amazing progress, but math and movement of numbers people agreed on.

So, while all is amazing, all can be very non amazing on the receiving end of the liquidity removal.

Venezuela is such an outlier that I don't even know where to start. But the essential problem there is political, not monetary.

If the U.S were to systematically purge their most productive industries (think Finance, Tech etc.), the US economy wouldn't last very long either.

A political problem can happen anywhere including the United States, I wouldn't call that an outlier.

That it happened is the outlier, not the possibility that it could happen.

Venezuela "sucks right now" due to geopolitical egotism. We've turned them into a pariah on the global market, penalizing nations that dare trade with them with our own sanctions.

Of course the Bolivar tanked. You can use a dollar to buy anything in the world. You can't use the bolivar to buy diddly squat.

Oh, and it had nothing to do with Chavez nationalizing industrious sectors and covering for his failures with the unsustainable crude oil prices?

Was it the act of nationalizing the sectors that made them unproductive or the refusal of the US to trade with said sectors post-nationalization?

We have a long, colorful history of punishing latin american nations for embracing redistributive social policies and decolonisation.

Never forget: https://www.democracynow.org/2013/9/10/40_years_after_chiles...

Refusal to trade? Since when did we have a broad trade embargo on Venezuela? We floated the idea of specifically an oil embargo only this year, with damn good reason given their human rights issues. You're reading too much Noah Chomsky.

Human rights issues? We trade freely and openly with Saudi Arabia. "Human rights issues" is trumpeted ad nauseum to cover for our self-serving international vendettas.

Like many former colonies, they suffer from a resource curse. Nationalizing their primary, non-renewable, extractive industry is the only way to ensure that their economy didn't centralize and stagnate, to ensure they didn't remain a vassal state[1]. Norway did it and they're a thriving, economically diversified, socialist state with an enormous sovereign wealth fund[2]. Libya did it to pursue the same societal goals and we exterminated their ruler and destroyed their state to such an extent that slavery reemerged[3].

I wonder what the difference was.

1. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/resource-curse.asp

2. https://www.ft.com/content/99680a04-92a0-11de-b63b-00144feab...

3. http://time.com/5042560/libya-slave-trade/

So let me get this straight: you're shifting from arguing that the US bears responsibility for the Venezuelan crisis by a supposed embargo that did not exist to implying that were at fault because we don't impose enough embargoes? Look, the world is complicated and no one ever claimed the US was a shining beacon of morality. The issue is a distortion of the obvious and we'll understood proximate causes of misery in that otherwise oil rich country, which should be as prosperous as Norway.

> the refusal of the US to trade

Venezuela is refusing international aid. There are sanctions on their government bonds, but the lack of private sector trade is basically caused by

- the lack of private sector industry,

- a lack of hard cash now, and

- trade barriers implemented by the Venezuelan government

not punitive American trade barriers or them somehow being turned into a "pairah".

>Venezuela is refusing international aid.

All aid from the IMF comes with punitive strings attached. Enforced austerity from abroad. A painful, unwarranted contraction of the economy primarily felt by the people most at risk.

>There are sanctions on their government bonds

You sanction a government bond and guess what happens? Debt becomes expensive, development becomes impossible. You are unable to cushion economic shocks like the threat of sanctions by a major economic superpower. The threats become liable to throw the entire economy into chaos, sending investors, domestic and international, fleeing for less risk.

We're keeping their oil cheap for a reason.

Uhhhh....I remember reading the other day about how researchers worry that men could become infertile in a generation because plastic is an epigenetic endocrine disruptor. (https://www.gq.com/story/sperm-count-zero). And that's only the latest way in which the world could end in my lifetime outside of nuclear war, climate change (Cape Town came close to running out of water this year ffs), etc etc.

How you think we're all better off just because we're enjoying eating our seed corn I do not understand. Next year we will simply starve.

We're not eating our seed corn, though - at least, not to the point where we won't survive. When you start looking for conspiracies like "plastic in the water will make us all sterile", you're really bending over backwards to find reasons to believe we're doomed. Think about that!

Food productivity globally has skyrocketed, to the point where we are supporting the largest population in history, with the cheapest food prices and lowest rates of malnutrition and famine in history. Climate change is a serious problem, but it's unlikely to end civilization, and even more unlikely to end the human race. At this point, I'm pretty sure the world would recover well even from a full-scale nuclear war between the US and Russia (which hasn't happened in 70 years anyway). That's because it wouldn't affect everyone directly, and massive, vital infrastructures are in place - the paved roads, power lines, working vehicles, communications systems, and most importantly, the documentation and literacy to read it. We could rebuild. We would rebuild.

Population growth has stabilized at the beginning of the process, where it matters. Right now, there are two billion children in the world. In a hundred years, there will also be two billion children in the world. The growth in global population right now is coming from the drastically increased lifespan of previous generations - adults that were once children who, contrary to human history, weren't struck down by disease or famine or war.

The biggest "seed corn" is fossil fuel, but we're moving toward a clean alternative energy future at a fine pace. By the end of the 21st century, clean wind and solar power will dominate, and fossil fuel will be a thing of the past. With a tremendous supply of clean energy, free information, and health... a lot changes.

"Ammunition, cigarettes, and booze" that was the advice given to my great grandfather when he worried about losing everything in the depression.

The more pragmatic advice however is to hedge in real transactional things, food production, logistics, real estate, and manufacturing, Etc. That part of the economy that operates on barter if it has to because people need these things to live.

I just bought some more 'vice' last week mostly because I have this fear, probably precipitated from Trump + a BUNCH of for sale signs popping up when I almost never saw an actual sign go up over the last 5 years. I assume I'm not the only one afraid although consumer confidence seems to be up as of August at least.

There will always be demand for food, for example.

Land in good climates. Don’t even worry about the houses.

Good education and shelter is pretty close, but not at all commodified or fungible. Real estate is complicated I guess.

The best you can do while preserving purchasing power is to diversify across asset classes with a big weighting to US equities.

The main hedges for the financial system breakdown are physical gold, silver and (my personal favourite, although much riskier) Bitcoin (though make sure you use a hardware wallet if you want to own it).

> What exactly am I supposed to be working on/towards if the system itself seems broken?

Replacing the current system with something better.

Any tips for the death and despair in the interim as 'something better' comes online?

That blog is great...it sheds a lot of light on how Americans are /really/ living these days. Thanks for sharing.

Its also a bit optimistic to think the death and despair will even lead to something better. Romes fall was the Churches rise, the poor beheaded the monarchy in France to replace them with Emperor Napoleon.

I for one think that the systemic and intentional divisiveness separating peoples and pushing them to war with one another than their opressors will also spur any attempt at improvement in the aftermath of coming disasters. We won't unite for the better, we will tear ourselves apart with blame and ire.

See a psychiatrist.

This is an alarmist article that ignores lots of important details and vastly oversimplifies things.

For example, few people realize that one of the largest owners of US Treasuries and US government sponsored enterprise (i.e., Fannie, Freddie, and Ginnie Mac, or collectively the GSEs) debt holdings is... the US government itself, via the Federal Reserve. As of yesterday, the Fed owns and is earning interest income on $2.3 trillion of treasuries and $1.9 trillion of GSE debt.[a]

In other words, the US federal government and GSE-guaranteed borrowers owe $4.2 trillion to... the US federal government itself.

Among other things, this means the US treasury is currently paying annual interest on $2.3 trillion of US treasuries to the Fed, and at the end of the year the Fed hands over all that earned interest to the US treasury, in perfectly circular fashion.

This startling fact is just one of many -- many! -- important details about modern monetary systems that are generally poorly understood by the public and which are utterly ignored by this article. Don't waste time reading it.

[a] https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/h41/current/h41.htm#...

It was hard for me to gauge what percentage of total debt that is, so a quick search indicates that by end of year 2018 the US government debt is going to be 21.4 trillion.

Roughly 20% of US government debt is held by itself.

According to the national debt's Wikipedia page 5.7 trillion is owned by the government. That ends up being about a forth of it.

I believe it's more than that. The Social Security trust fund holds another ~$3 trillion in federal debt.

The Fed does pay interest on excess reserves these days so the portion of debt that comes from issuing zero interest obligations (namely dollars) is not as large as it seems. As it currently stands, excess reserves are around $1.8T: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/EXCSRESNS

Yes. My comment was meant to illustrate sharply the utter lack of depth of this article, without going into too much detail... but thank you for pointing that out :-)

Is there a good source explaining how this whole thing works?

How do we know that the US isn't just printing this money out of thin air (as in money that is not declared to have been printed)? The system seems extremely complex which worries me that such things might be going on.

As the global reserve currency the US has way more power than a country like Venezuela and in my view could be getting away with printing extra money.

Yes, this video explains in very easy to understand terms exactly how all of this works:


edit: It is a 30 minute video by Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of the largest and most profitable hedge funds.

Do you have suggestions on books or other sources that would enlighten me on these details?

I'm sure I've complained about this before, I'd love to read a similar article to this that compares two quantities that share the same unit. Debt is in dollars and GDP is in dollars per year. Those are different units.

For example, tax revenue versus debt service payments -- or where are the debt service payments actually going? Or future debt service vs future tax revenue under different scenarios. Or for that matter, what are the actual constraints to borrowing and how can they change.

Really good point.

In the US you can compare federal debt and debt payments easily if if you use "percent of GDP" as a unit.

(a) Federal Outlays: Interest as Percent of Gross Domestic Product, Percent of GDP, Not Seasonally Adjusted (FYOIGDA188S)

(b) Federal Debt: Total Public Debt as Percent of Gross Domestic Product, Percent of GDP, Seasonally Adjusted (GFDEGDQ188S)

Formula: a/b

The result: https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=lcpR


ADDEDUM: Part of those interest payments is paid for the Federal Reserve who then pays them back to Treasury. In 2017 Treasury paid something like $262 billion interest and Fed pays $80 billion back to Treasury. Debt from government institution to another is not really worrying or 'real' debt. It's just accounting trick.

Yes, you've complained about it before - more than once. (At least, someone has - I don't specifically remember if it was you.)

And it's a valid point. The units are wrong for them to be compared.

And yet, it's only half of a valid point, because the only thing people are doing with that ratio is comparing it to the same ratio for other years or other countries. The number can be dimensionally wrong and still be useful to use in that way.

Why would the number be useful to use in that way? Well, it seems intuitively reasonable to say that the bigger an economy is, the more debt it can carry without the debt burden being any more of a strain. The US can carry more debt than Vanuatu can, and not because the US government is more credit-worthy. So scaling the debt by GDP makes some sense.

And, in fact, dimensional analysis can make sense of this. Let's say the GDP is $10 Trillion. Well, it's not really $10 Trillion, it's $10 Trillion/year. If the debt is $30 Trillion, then the ratio is $32 Trillion / ($10 Trillion/year), which equals 3.2 years. That's how long it would take to pay off the debt using 100% of the GDP (which of course never happens, but it's still a measure of how much of a load the debt is). So when you see them report that debt is 320% of GDP, what they're really saying is that the debt load is 3.2 years.

This is also a good point.

But it's not as easy to interpret as you say. The currency, maturity distribution and interest rate of the debt are all important. If the average maturity is 20 years for 1%, it's completely different from 3 years and 5 percent.

Differentiating debt in foreign or domestic currency is even more important. In the US and Japan all government debt is in local currency. It's completely different problem from countries like Venezuela or Argentina that have also debt in foreign currency. Hyperinflation occurs only in countries with large debts in external currencies.

I don't understand why the comparison even makes any sense:

Let's say debt is equivalent to the mortgage on your house. You compare an individual exposure by their monthly repayment against their income, not income against mortgage amount! Why is it any different for this?

Usually in France, it's customary to allow this ratio to be 30%. With median income at 20k€, this leaves about 5k€/y, or 410€/month. At current rates, mortgage size of 100k€, total cost of 150k€. The "debt to GDP" is thus 150/20=750%.

Apples to oranges?

It can be apples to oranges but it can be useful metric also.

I think of it as the higher the debt to GDP ratio is the longer/harder it will be to repay the debt.

Dimensional analysis is an oft-forgotten but highly valuable part of financial understanding.

A dollar is 24 3/4 grains of gold.

After all, how can officials from the Federal Reserve to the Bank of Japan even pretend to know how to reverse what they’ve done over the past decade?

As I understand the US Fed plan, treasuries bought under QE would be allowed to mature without buying replacements. These assets were purchased with a variety of maturity dates. In other words, the bonds simply disappear on their own - not all at once but gradually.

The problem in Japan is much worse because the central bank has bought ETFs directly and is now a major holder.


Any unwinding of the BOJ position would lead to major disruptions.

> Any unwinding of the BOJ position would lead to major disruptions.

That's just pushing the inevitable. A lot of stocks went up because of debt. Those stocks needed to come down. In a real capitalist system, the companies with declining stocks would be replaced by new ones. But BOJ intervened (for good reason) and now they are in a painful slow decline.

Pull a bandaid quick vs pull it over time!

Wow. I assumed global deficits were approx $50T in the QE-era. With Global World Product (GWP) ballpark $75-100T. And annual global growth rates averaging 3-4% in good times.

Even with old numbers. And the assumption interest rates will remain below historical means. There is the possibility creditors can never be paid back.

But with these new estimates of 3X leverage? Time has come to think seriously about debt relief and cancellation. Not top down this time, but bottom up. Starting with direct injection into student loans, home mortgages, medical, small business loans, etc.

this is a bad article

it harps incessantly on debt, throwing out scary, big numbers ($250T! $40T in china!) but doesn't explain why increasing government debt is an issue

there is a reason to worry if the interest rate on the government debt is larger than the growth rate of the economy

currently that average interest rate is below 3 percent [1], so for any countries with >3% economic growth, it really doesn't matter - they'll be able to make their interest payments to one another (most big holders of gov debt are other govs themselves)

financial and household debt is down across developed economies, and corporate debt is about the same as it was in 2008

furthermore there is no discussion of what could trigger a debt collection death spiral/meltdown, other than "the world's second largest economy is now coming to terms with rising corporate defaults", backed up by 0 context or data

the real worry would be continued slowdown in GDP growth ala "secular stagnation" that many prominent economists are exploring - if you're not growing your income, you can't pay down your debt, and you have to start cutting costs (healthcare, education, defense)

debt has a bad connotation and is easy to sensationalize, so articles like this get attention, but there's no news, argument, or takeaway to be had from reading it

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/opinion/on-the-debt-non-s...

>> currently that average interest rate is below 3 percent [1], so for any countries with >3% economic growth, it really doesn't matter - they'll be able to make their interest payments to one another

What does 3% economic growth mean? Is it measured in terms of that country's own currency? But isn't that currency's value inversely proportional to the amount of money which was borrowed from the Fed? So the higher the interest rate is, the more new money the government has to borrow from the Fed in order to pay back its old debt, the less the currency becomes worth, the less meaningful this 'economic growth' percentage becomes (because that growth is measured in this fast-deflating currency). This seems to be mind-numbingly complex.

> Is it measured in terms of that country's own currency?

No. The obvious makes that a useless measure. GDP is used, modified to ignore what government factions like to conveniently manipulate or modify. Lumping in tech stocks and pharma was the latest trick in the USA.

Dollar-denominated debt in emerging markets is the big exception. If the dollar rises, those debts become more expensive to repay, regardless of the emerging market's underlying economy. That's why Ukraine, Argentina, Turkey and Brazil have seen the recent volatility.

The question is whether these problems are limited to those countries with high dollar debt or whether it could cause a regional capital outflow that reduces economic growth in neighboring countries or trade partners.

I see no intention from governments of ever paying off that debt. All I see, worldwide and US is more and more spending. At one point in the future we won't be able to pay for it anymore. So, what happens if everyone finds out they're not getting their money back? i hope we never find out.

30% of US debt is owned by intergovernmental agencies: like Social security/medicare/military retirement funds - so that might go down the tubes.

The other 70% of US debt is public debt, of which almost half is owned by foreign governments and investors.


Its turtles all the way down. US debt isn't just money the US owes some guy sitting on a pile of money. The debtors owe debtors owe debtors - nobody has a Scrooge style money pit sitting around.

It is a house of cards, but it isn't one with a clear winner and loser. A loss of faith in international credit destroys all economies.

If governments paid off their debt, there would be no money. Money IS debt.

you keep posting this all over the thread, but it's not true.

money requires no interest payment.

debt does.

There's a very interesting explanation on why you can consider money as being debt by Paul Grignon [0].

Of course, there are critics of this view and it's not necessarily 100% correct, but it does seem plausible.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Money_as_Debt

The current system seems extremely fragile to me; it's as if the tiniest miscalculation in terms of government debt versus economic growth could set a country on an irreversible course to hyperinflation (with respect to other countries' currencies). It seems ridiculous that governments have the power to seal the financial fate of their citizens in this way; irrespective of the actual economic output of those citizens. I think this makes a strong case for cryptocurrencies; citizens should be allowed to choose a currency which reflects their own level of financial discipline (and not that of their government).

The difference between debt-money and value-money is that debt-money is supposed to originally be backed by cashflows of value-money but is really paid back by an ever expanding amount of debt-money.

In other words, things are getting more and more leveraged. The amount of money to actual goods and services is exponentially increasing. So the value of money steadily decreases and we get inflation.

The danger is that this money evaporates as people default on loans.

As long as interest rates are low, people don’t default very much, but as they rise, the defaults happen.

Why do central banks need to raise interest rates at all? It just leads to a bloodbath as some loans get renegotiated.

Why not just have one predictable interest rate like Milton Friedman spoke about?

It seems to me that the central banks fix the next crisis by QA and low base interest rates. Why not just keep them low and let people default for actual reasons, instead of having a terrible time taking out a loan during high interest rate season?

If our money supply is going to be so debt based, why raise base interest rates? To “reload” so you can swoop in and save people from a money supply crunch you induced?

> Because of that, the fretting about the Fed’s current balance-sheet runoff plan is almost comical. There’s simply too much debt in the system and no clear path to truly paying it off. Not even central bank officials are pretending they’ll shed all their holdings — estimates fluctuate around ending at $2.5 trillion.

I thought that the plan was to eventually inflate the debt away. But maybe that's just cynical conspiracy theory.

I remember the national being a huge issue in the 80s (and probably before). This send like important and scary reporting but I'm not sure how this time is different from all the other alarm bells over the past 40+ years.

Is this a case of people calling wolf or is this a real crisis just decades in the making?

This isn’t about national debt but global debt. The US national debt at present is not much of an issue because the dollar is strong and interest rates are still quite low. The risk is for less economically strong countries who are susceptible to changing foreign interest rates / exchange ratios.

> no one is quite sure what happens when a global superpower like Japan reaches a debt-to-GDP ratio of 224 percent. The U.S., U.K. and France have all surpassed the 100 percent level

It sounds like the author is nervous about the rise of US debt as well.

Debt relative to GDP according to the chart shown in the article went up 14% in a decade from 280 to 380 trillion, which does not seem that bad imho. Relative debt is more important than nominal debt.

This is a bit older but good background presentation by Richard Duncan: https://vimeo.com/101487179

PS: Ignore the title

"The system is insolvent. No one knows what to do next — except repeat the insanity till the next bubble blows. That'll be the one. The big one."

— Gekko, Wall Street 2, 2010


Would it work if all debts on Earth were simultaneously erased by creating the relevant amounts of money?

Why is there no mention of India?

Isn't that $35K for every man, woman and child alive? How can that be?

To truly understand how bad it is, we would have to analyse the 250T figure in more detail.

There is a "free debt" component to it which was generated via seigniorage[1] and "real debt" to people, companies and other economic actors. It seems to me that many commenters here see only one part of it.

To illustrate it, let me give you an example how "free debt" can be generated by a government. Imagine for a second that we have one world government (WG) and one world currency. And assume that we are in a peace time when collective world productivity grows 3% every year. World's central bank (WCB) targets 2% inflation. Also assume that velocity of money[2] is constant and in general people's behave the same in time. This effectively means WCB can "freely print" 5% of new money without causing any real problem. But who should get the new money? Instead of simply printing it and directly giving it to someone, they have pretty sophisticated/obfuscated mechanisms how to introduce the new money to the system. Typically part of that new money is given to the WG in exchange for WG's bonds. The new money is effectively introduced as an interest-bearing debt. But please note that this debt is "free" for WG. WCB will never want to repay the debt (by allowing WG's debt to always roll over). And also note that WCB is part of WG. That means the collected interest WG formally paid to WCB is then given back to WG.

Of course WG can also sell bonds to people, companies and other actors. This debt is the "real debt" which must be paid back. But let's assume WG is prudent and does not do that.

You can observe that WG can continue this as long the world productivity is growing better than -2%

The problem with "free debt" comes when the growth is even worse (e.g. in war times) or when velocity of money gets faster suddenly (or there are other inflation pressures or shocks). WCB should reverse this mechanism in this bad case. It has to "pump excess currency out of the system" by selling its bonds and destroying the currency to hit the 2% inflation target (technically it would do it by not allowing complete rotation of WG's debt).

Of course real world scenario is much more complex than that. And real governments additionally take "real debt" where usual rules apply. The question for us is how big part of those 250T is the "real debt".

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seigniorage [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velocity_of_money

What a wonderful article. I think that there are two sides to this coin: the nature of the debt and the nature of the repayment. Even the smallest and most well mannered debt is a problem if there is no path to repayment. And even large, nasty debt is ok as long as the people borrowing have done their homework and have a solid plan to repay. So this article did a great job of profiling the debt but it didn’t go into enough detail about the borrowers. If interest rates have been so low, and the borrowers have been somewhat lucid, even this large debt can be paid off without any crisis?

Using 150k tonnes of above ground gold, if all of it was minted into currency, would equal +- 100M dollars. Probably not more than 10% is minted currency coins - .999 isn't for currency use. So there is about 10M dollars in existence.

1200 USD per ounce x 16 oz per lb x 2000 lb per ton x 150,000 =5.76E12 USD

5,760,000,000,000 USD, except for the fact that Troy ounces are slightly different than normal ounces. Too lazy to look up.

a dollar is 24 3/4 grains of gold.


Ah I see.

Before you read the article, keep one thing in mind, Money IS debt. If there is no debt, there is no money. Another way of looking at government debt is private sector savings.

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