The US economy and its financial structures have never recovered from the great financial meltdown of 2008 despite the passage of ten years. Little discussion has been given to the fact that the Republican Congress last year abandoned the process of mandatory budget cuts or automatic sequestration that had been voted in a feeble attempt to rein in the dramatic rise in US government debt. That was merely an added factor in what soon will be recognized as a classic debt trap. What is now looming over not just the US economy but also the global financial system is a crisis that could spell the end of the post-1944 dollar system.
First some basic background. When President Nixon, on advice of Paul Volcker, then at US Treasury, announced on August 15, 1971 the unilateral end of the Bretton Woods gold-dollar system, to replace it with a floating dollar, Washington economists and Wall Street bankers realized that the unique role of the US dollar as leading reserve currency held by all central banks and the currency for world commodity and other trade, especially oil, gave them something that appeared to be a gift from monetary heaven.
So long as the world needed US dollars, Washington could run government deficits without end. Foreign central banks, especially the Bank of Japan in the 1980’s and since the turn of the century, the Peoples’ Bank of China, would have little choice but to reinvest their surplus trade dollar earnings in interest-bearing AAA-rated US Treasury securities. This perverse dollar system allowed Washington to finance its wars in faraway places like Afghanistan or Iraq with other peoples’ money. During the Administration of George W. Bush, when Washington’s annual budget deficit exceeded annually one trillion dollars, Vice President Dick Cheney cynically quipped, “debt doesn’t matter; Reagan proved that.” Up to a point that appeared so. Now we are getting dangerously near to that “point” where debt does matter.
Federal Debt Rise
There are generally speaking three major divisions of debt measured in the US economy: Federal debt of Washington, corporate debt and private household debt. Today, owing in large part to ten years of historic low interest rates following the largest financial crisis in history–the 2007-2008 sub-prime crisis that became a global systemic crisis after September 2008–all three sectors have borrowed as if there was no tomorrow because of the near-zero Federal Reserve interest rates and their various Quantitative Easings.