The Chicago Tribune, a mighty newspaper having substantial resources for information-gathering, repeatedly promulgates the “Big Lie” in economics — the lie that because U.S. federal finances are just like state/local government finances, business finances, and personal finances, the federal deficit must be cut and/or taxes increased to “pay for” it all.
In truth, federal finances have almost nothing in common with the finances of other entities, not even the finances of Germany, France, Italy, et al.
Here are some excerpts from a Tribune editorial dated 7/19/2021:
Spend-borrow-repeat will be the ‘debt’ of us
National governments worldwide — ours in the forefront — have fought the pandemic and its side effects with borrowed money. Much of this new debt will fall not only on today’s children and grandchildren, but also on our descendants not yet born.
Wrong: “Today’s children and descendants not yet born” will not pay for any part of the so-called “debt,” just as you have not paid anything for the $25 trillion already accumulated.
It’s not debt. The misnamed “debt” is nothing more than the total of deposits into Treasury Security accounts, which resemble bank safe deposit accounts.
The government never touches those accounts, except to deposit interest, and the “debt” easily is paid off simply by sending the money back to the depositors. No tax dollars ever are involved.
So we were concerned if not surprised by a Wall Street Journal news story headlined “Governments world-wide gorge on record debt, testing new limits.” The Journal reports: “The U.S. government is on course for a budget deficit of $3 trillion for the second year in a row.”
The deficit (the difference between taxes and spending) is not a real deficit. Federal taxes have no relationship to federal spending; all federal taxes are destroyed immediately upon receipt.
When you pay your federal taxes, you take dollars from your checking account (which is part of the M1 money supply), and you send them to the federal government, where they are destroyed. That is, they cease to be part of any money measure. They cease to exist.
The federal government does not use your tax dollars to pay its bills. It creates new dollars, ad hoc.
Even if the federal government collected zero taxes, it still could continue spending forever. The main purpose of federal taxes is to control the economy. The government taxes what it wishes to discourage, and it gives tax breaks to what it wishes to encourage.
We mention this as our government’s Internal Revenue Service delivers the first of several child tax credit payments to single parents earning up to $95,000, and to couples earning up to $170,000. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats say they intend to pass a sweeping social, educational and environmental package they price at $3.5 trillion.
A trillion of anything befuddles many Americans, journalists included. The temptation is to toss one’s fidgety hands in the air and mutter that these debts belong not to us individual Americans but to a faceless federal government.
That last paragraph is true. The misnamed “debt” is just a notation on the federal government’s books. It is completely unrelated to individual Americans or to taxes.
No one is liable for paying off the federal “debt,” which is paid off by returning dollars already in the T-security accounts.
Ah, problem already. That government is essentially a big checking account with a standing army; it collects and spends tax dollars.
Wrong. Although the government does collect tax dollars, it does not spend tax dollars.
It has the unlimited ability to create new dollars and that is what they use when paying their bills.
No one has said it better than former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan:
The U.S. government uniquely is Monetarily Sovereign — it is sovereign over the U.S. dollar. It can create as many as it pleases at any time it pleases, for any purpose it pleases, and give them any value it pleases.
As our national debt rises daily toward $29 trillion, the government’s perpetual printing of new dollars threatens to cheapen the currency. In short, we — or our progeny — have to repay every dollar now being lent to Washington by China and other buyers of U.S. bonds.
Mark Lennihan, the author of the editorial, publishes two errors in one paragraph. “Cheapen the currency” refers to inflation. Lennihan is claiming that the rising national “debt” (deposits into T-security accounts) causes inflation.
He is wrong. The “debt” has risen, in the past 80 years from about $40 billion to about $25 trillion (depending on who’s counting), a gigantic increase. But in those 80 years, inflation has been modest.
Further, being Monetarily Sovereign, the federal government retains absolute control over the value of the dollar. It can change the value at will, as it has done many times in the past, the most recent being in 1971.
Maybe the accumulation of debt continues indefinitely without consequence. Or maybe critics cited by the Journal are right to warn that our spending is excessive, “risking an overheated economy and a lasting rise in inflation and interest rates.”
The accumulation of debt has continued without consequence for 80 years, despite repeated (and wrong) warnings from debt fear-mongers. Inflation has been modest — close to the Fed’s 2% annual target.
Which raises a question we hope Illinoisans will direct to their members of Congress: When does necessary spending on pandemic relief mutate into optional spending on the desirable but unaffordable?
We argue that unchecked cycles of spend-borrow-repeat eventually enfeeble any nation. That may not happen while interest rates are as low as today’s. But those rates — the relentless cost to taxpayers of carrying so much debt — now are likelier to rise than to fall.
Nothing is “unaffordable” for the federal government. It has infinite money. The author is confusing federal finances with personal finances or state/local government finances.u
Federal taxpayers have not and will not “carry” any of the federal debt. Tax dollars are destroyed upon receipt. They do not fund the debt.
Thus far in the pandemic, global securities markets happily support all of our borrowing; because of its prosperity, America is a safe haven for investors.
The federal government, having the infinite ability to create dollars, never borrows. More confusion by the author of the editorial.
But as Robert Rubin, the treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, warned in a 2018 op-ed published in the Tribune: “The European financial crisis that began in early 2010 shows how markets can ignore unsound conditions for a long time — until they don’t. For many years,
Greeksovereign bonds traded at virtually the same yields as their German counterparts, which made no sense. Then, when the bond markets suddenly focused on the fiscal problems plaguing Greece and the other weaker countries, interest rates spiraled into crisis.”
Astoundingly, the treasury secretary did not understand the differences between a Monetarily Sovereign government (the U.S.) and monetarily non-sovereign governments (euro nations, Greece, Germany, Italy et al)
Greece, Germany and all the other euro nations do not have the ability to create their sovereign currency at will. Like you, and me, and our cities and states, they do not have a sovereign currency. They use the euro, which is the sovereign currency of the European Union, not of any individual nation. (It’s similar to the way American states are not sovereign over the dollar.)
All of us can run short of money. The U.S. government cannot. Anyone who does not understand the difference, does not understand economics.
Many Tribune readers are smarter than their government: Chastened by the Great Recession in which the inability to pay mortgage debt cost people their homes, Americans have attacked private-sector debt even as their politicians raised public-sector debt.
Again, Mr. Lennihan demonstrates a shocking ignorance of economics. He confuses personal (monetarily non-sovereign) finances with federal (Monetarily Sovereign) finances. It is amazing that he receives such a nationwide platform to spew such nonsense.
A classic example of citizens taking to heart the admonition, “Don’t try this at home.”
To reiterate arguments you’ve read here before: We write often about debt in part to counteract the popular (and in Illinois, political) tendency to see borrowed money as free manna that somebody else will worry about, someday. The truth is that, whether it’s enforced or nominally forgiven, someone always pays.
The admonition, “Don’t try this at home” is correct, because “home” is not Monetarily Sovereign.
Since it’s not real debt, but rather it’s deposits, no one pays. However, the federal government always pays its creditors — with newly created dollars.
When America’s debt inevitably grows too onerous for taxpayers to bear or global investors to tolerate, expect a furious blame game: Why did our politicians let this happen?
America’s debt is not borne by taxpayers. If it were, the debt could not have reached $25 trillion. It already would have been “borne.”
The “blame game” only will occur if we have a recession, which would be caused by too little deficit spending.
We voters didn’t demand that spending not exceed revenue, that debt not be allowed to pile up like snow atop a mountain. A long line of presidents and Congresses have talked about preventing the avalanche. But we voters have let them get by on that lip service alone.
When spending doesn’t exceed revenue, we have recessions if we are lucky, and depressions if we are not lucky.
1804-1812: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 48%. Depression began 1807.
1817-1821: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 29%. Depression began 1819.
1823-1836: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 99%. Depression began 1837.
1852-1857: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 59%. Depression began 1857.
1867-1873: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 27%. Depression began 1873.
1880-1893: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 57%. Depression began 1893.
1920-1930: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 36%. Depression began 1929.
1997-2001: U. S. Federal Debt reduced 15%. Recession began 2001.
A growing economy requires a growing supply of money. If the money supply shrinks, or even grows too slowly, we have recessions or depressions.
Their greatest sin thus far is abject failure to reform the debt-manufacturing entitlement programs such as Medicare (whose hospital coverage trust fund is projected by its trustees to run dry in 2026) and the Social Security retirement fund (projected as empty in 2034).
Finally, toward the end of his editorial, Mr. Lennihan reveals the true purpose of his Big Lie: He wants to cut the benefits that would go to the masses.
Why? Because that is what the very rich, who really run America, want.
It’s called Gap Psychology, the desire to distance oneself from those below. The rich are rich only because of the Gap. If there were no Gap, no one would be rich; everyone would be the same. And the wider the Gap the richer are the rich.
To widen the Gap, the rich bribe the media (via ownership and advertising dollars). They bribe the politicians (via campaign contributions and promises of lucrative employment, later.) They bribe the economists (via university endowments and promises of employment with “think tanks.)
So as members of Congress and President Joe Biden ponder a massive expansion of social, educational and environmental spending, we have a request:
Whatever the final shape of your package, pay for it rather than borrow for it. Because given how you’ve behaved — especially since the pandemic struck — your binge of spend-borrow-repeat will be the debt of us.
Fear, not Mr. Lennihan, it all will be paid for in exactly the same manner as always. No, the federal government will not borrow its own sovereign currency. It will create new dollars, ad hoc.
Now we have a request: Stop disseminating the Big Lie, either by ignorance or intent.
If you don’t understand Monetary Sovereignty, read up on it before writing anything more.
If you do understand it, and still are spreading the Big Lies, retire immediately in ignominy. You don’t deserve to have any of your work published.
Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
Facebook: Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
THE SOLE PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT IS TO IMPROVE AND PROTECT THE LIVES OF THE PEOPLE.
The most important problems in economics involve:
- Monetary Sovereignty describes money creation and destruction.
- Gap Psychology describes the common desire to distance oneself from those “below” in any socio-economic ranking, and to come nearer those “above.” The socio-economic distance is referred to as “The Gap.”
Wide Gaps negatively affect poverty, health and longevity, education, housing, law and crime, war, leadership, ownership, bigotry, supply and demand, taxation, GDP, international relations, scientific advancement, the environment, human motivation and well-being, and virtually every other issue in economics. Implementation of Monetary Sovereignty and The Ten Steps To Prosperity can grow the economy and narrow the Gaps:
Ten Steps To Prosperity:
- Eliminate FICA
- Federally funded Medicare — parts A, B & D, plus long-term care — for everyone
- Social Security for all
- Free education (including post-grad) for everyone
- Salary for attending school
- Eliminate federal taxes on business
- Increase the standard income tax deduction, annually.
- Tax the very rich (the “.1%”) more, with higher progressive tax rates on all forms of income.
- Federal ownership of all banks
- Increase federal spending on the myriad initiatives that benefit America’s 99.9%
The Ten Steps will grow the economy and narrow the income/wealth/power Gap between the rich and the rest.