Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Free money for the gov't

Ezra Klein explains:

The real yield on Treasury debt has, in recent months, turned negative. Sound impenetrably dull? Sure. But here’s what it means: free money!

Let’s start by defining some terms: The “yield” on Treasury debt is how much the government pays to borrow money. The “real yield” is how much it pays to borrow money after accounting for inflation. When the “real yield” turns negative, it means the government isn’t paying to borrow money anymore. Rather, the situation has flipped, and the government is getting paid to keep money safe.
Usually, the U.S. government has to pay quite a bit to borrow money. In January 2003, for instance, the interest rate on a seven-year Treasury was about 3.6 percent, which gave investors a yield of more than two percent after accounting for inflation. Right now, the interest rate is 1.52 percent, or minus-0.34 percent after accounting for inflation.

Here’s what this means: If we can think of any investments we can make over the next seven years that have a return of zero percent — yes, you read that right — or more, it would be foolish not to borrow this money and make them.

The case is even stronger with investments we know we will need to make over the next decade. The economy will get better, and as it gets better, the cost of borrowing will rise. The longer we wait, in other words, the more expensive those investments will become.

Why will we not take advantage of this situation?:

Everyone knows we have worthwhile investments to make. The real reason we won’t take advantage of this remarkable opportunity is ideology: Republicans argue that deficits are the only thing that matters for our recovery — unless anyone attempts to close them through tax increases, and then tax rates are the only thing that matters for our recovery. And Democrats have stopped even attempting to challenge them.

As an economic theory, that’s just dead wrong. Deficits matter, but in the long and medium term. What matters now is getting the unemployment rate down.

Need proof? Well, what’s worrisome about deficits? That high federal deficits will crowd out private borrowing. And how do we know if that’s happening? High interest rates. And where are interest rates now? They’re negative.

I understand believing in limited gov't. But this type of thing I just don't get. Its almost purely about being the minority party and not wanting to give Obama and Democrats a policy achievement. Either that or they truly buy into the ridiculous economic arguments they give in public. And that's problematic not only because it hampers growth right now, but also in that they probably won't be proven wrong because by the time they are in the majority again the economy will probably be growing faster and they will claim credit despite their obstruction. That is unless voters don't reward their behavior.

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