There are two ways of viewing this debt crisis. One is that it is simply a temporary dislocation in the credit markets and a liquidity problem. The second is that it is a crisis triggered by subprime lending, accentuated because most people still can’t afford their houses, and compounded because almost every bad loan was highly leveraged. If it is the second type of crisis, one should remember: if trapped in a ditch full of debt, quit digging.
We are piling debt on debt. U.S. consumers are tapped out. Net household savings have gone negative. Corporate debt, particularly derivatives exposure, has reached truly dangerous levels. (Outstanding derivatives exceed $655 trillion. The U.S. economy is around $13 trillion). Government indebtedness is also approaching levels that exceed even those reached in the Depression and World War II. Add these three sources of debt together and the U.S. already owes almost four times its GDP. Now we are adding trillions in bailouts and face rocket-fueled mandatory spending programs. These trends may end up being fatal if we do not act. Right now.
For years, many have been warning, pleading, threatening. Now the crisis really is upon us. And because the numbers are so large, the Obama administration has a very narrow window, say thirty to sixty days, to send ten very clear signals and buy itself some financial breathing room.
First and foremost, Obama has to focus on the dollar. There is ever more pressure on rating agencies to question whether the U.S. remains a triple AAA credit risk given the current debt overhang. If U.S. debt is downgraded then a whole series of institutions could not hold T Bills and short sellers would begin to hunt. Maybe some of the same ones that brought down the British pound.