An alternative to popular faith
Some experts tell us the federal government wishes to “inflate its way out of debt.” The theory is this: During inflation, money loses value. For instance if the buying power of tomorrow’s dollar will be worth only 90% of today’s dollar, paying today’s $1,000 debt tomorrow will cost you only $900 in today’s buying power.
That is why, if you positively knew inflation will average 3%, borrowing money at 2% would net you more buying power than you have today. This was part of the lure of home ownership. Real estate inflation would make your house appreciate faster than your interest payments – an automatic profit.
Let’s say you have no money in the bank, but you are able to acquire a $100 thousand, low-interest-only mortgage to buy a house. The house inflates in value 10% a year. Ten years after buying the house, you could sell it for $260 thousand. You could pay off your mortgage principal and have tons of money left over. In essence you have inflated your way out of debt and made a profit, a nice, no-effort game, that millions of people played.
It’s a philosophy that, during inflation, can work for people, companies, and state and local governments, but not for the federal government.
You see, the federal government creates all the money it needs, to pay bills of any size. Unlike state and local governments, the federal government does not rely on taxes or any other income to pay its bills. If all federal taxes ended today, the federal government’s ability to pay its bills would not change by even one penny. No federal check of any size would bounce.
When you receive a federal check, you deposit it in your bank account. Your bank sends the information the government, which unfailingly credits your account. This credit to your account is not related in any way to taxes, inflation, balance of payments, T-securities or to any other economic reality. The federal government does not maintain a stash of dollars from which it pays bills. It merely creates money by crediting bank accounts. This may sound “too-good-to-be-true” or a “free-lunch,” but it’s the way federal financing works.
Further, the government owes virtually all its debts in dollars, which makes inflating useless. One trillion dollars in debt must be repaid with one trillion dollars, neither more nor less, regardless of inflation.
So the question is: If the government can pay any bill of any size, simply by creating all the money it needs and crediting bank accounts, and if no federal check ever bounces, why would the federal government need to “inflate its way out of debt”? The answer: It doesn’t.
Anyone who says the federal government wants to inflate its way out of debt simply does not understand the reality of federal government finance. They probably have confused federal debt with all other debt.
Rodger Malcolm Mitchell