Here’s a year end roundup (aka The Wonky Awards) from Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog at The Washington Post. While wonky indeed, he’s presented it all in such a way that even we economically illiterate get the drift. It’s a terrific piece of work and challenges much of the conventional narrative, but don’t expect any corrections in the media script – plain facts aren’t sexy.
This one strikes me as the most revealing example of media failure – every time a politician or partisan warns we’re going to become Greece!!!, the punditocracy ought to use this information to inform any discussion.
As we endlessly debated deficits and debts this year, every so often it was worth surfing over to the neglected corner of the Treasury.Gov Web site where they track the inflation-adjusted yield on government debt. Those quick jaunts were always a good reminder that everyone in politics was completely insane.
The thing you worry about when you have high deficits is that the market will lose its confidence in your ability to repay your debts. The place you’d see the market losing its confidence is in high interest rates on government debt — that would be a signal that the market is pricing in some risk of default. But all this year, the real yield on three- , five- , seven- and, occasionally, even 20-year government debt has been negative. Negative! The world is so dangerous that the market will literally pay us to keep their money safe.
If any corporation could borrow for less than nothing, they’d see that as the opportunity of a lifetime. We can borrow for less than nothing at a moment when our infrastructure is crumbling and millions are out of work. But instead of taking advantage of this amazing opportunity, we’re actually cutting our support to the economy and arguing exclusively about how to reduce our deficits. It’s embarrassing.