Skip to main content

Who holds the American public debt?

Just a clarification following up my comments on Nick Rowe's post.  Several people are under the impression that the Fed can still monetize debt if the debt-ceiling is not raised beyond the US$ 14.3 trillion limit.  Not the case. Otherwise there would be no default by definition.  There might have been some problems associated with monetization, but not default (see more about monetization here).

Of the US$ 14 trillion of debt outstanding by December 2010, around US$ 5.6 were held by the Fed and other intra-government agencies (Fed holds around US$ 1.6; see Dean Baker's proposal and discussion here).  So if the Fed buys debt, to monetize it, it just reduces the privately held part of the debt and increases the publicly held, but it cannot increase the total amount.  The graph below shows the public, private, and the foreign (within the private) held shares of US public debt.


As you can see, since the Great Recession, the private share increased from around 50% to close to 60%, and of that the increase has been mostly associated to foreign ownership.  So apparently nobody has been worried (correctly so) about the possibility of an American default.  In fact, since the crisis Treasuries have been increasingly a demanded asset by the private sector, particularly foreign investors, as a safe heaven against the risk of default (data here).  The problem is that the debt-ceiling limit creates a situation which would otherwise be impossible, namely: the US can default on bonds issued in its own currency.

Well understood what the debt-ceiling limit implies is a fiscal restriction, and it would force drastic cuts in spending.  Consider it a very large government shutdown.  So in reply to Nick, if you are Keynesian, and believe your model, this is really bad news.

Comments

  1. A great site and good analysis.

    Any default will be a political choice - and in no sense a necessary event.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What is the 'Classical Dichotomy'?

A few brief comments on Brexit and the postmortem of the European Union

Another end of the world is possible
There will be a lot of postmortems for the European Union (EU) after Brexit. Many will suggest that this was a victory against the neoliberal policies of the European Union. See, for example, the first three paragraphs of Paul Mason's column here. And it is true, large contingents of working class people, that have suffered with 'free-market' economics, voted for leaving the union. The union, rightly or wrongly, has been seen as undemocratic and responsible for the economics woes of Europe.

The problem is that while it is true that the EU leaders have been part of the problem and have pursued the neoliberal policies within the framework of the union, sometimes with treaties like the Fiscal Compact, it is far from clear that Brexit and the possible demise of the union, if the fever spreads to France, Germany and other countries with their populations demanding their own referenda, will lead to the abandonment of neoliberal policies. Aust…

A brief note on Venezuela and the turn to the right in Latin America

So besides the coup in Brazil (which was all but confirmed by the last revelations, if you had any doubts), and the electoral victory of Macri in Argentina, the crisis in Venezuela is reaching a critical level, and it would not be surprising if the Maduro administration is recalled, even though right now the referendum is not scheduled yet.

The economy in Venezuela has collapsed (GDP has fallen by about 14% or so in the last two years), inflation has accelerated (to three digit levels; 450% or so according to the IMF), there are shortages of essential goods, recurrent energy blackouts, and all of these aggravated by persistent violence. Contrary to what the press suggests, these events are not new or specific to left of center governments. Similar events occurred in the late 1980s, in the infamous Caracazo, when the fall in oil prices caused an external crisis, inflation, and food shortages, which eventually, after the announcement of a neoliberal economic package that included the i…