Debt Ceiling
The House passed a Budget deal on October 28, 2015 that, among other things, will extends the government’s borrowing authority through mid-March 2017. In 2013, the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate negotiated with the White House on three fiscal matters with looming deadlines: raising the debt ceiling now approaching the limit $16.5T, massive federal spending cuts known as sequester and a budget resolution. On February 4th, the President signed a bill into law extending the debt limit debate until 5/18/13. This date may also get extended as far as August due to financial manipulations similar to those used in 2011. The "No Budget, No Pay Act of 2013" also mandates that pay for lawmakers be held in escrow starting April 16 until their chamber has passed a 2014 budget resolution. Congress must pass a spending bill, called a continuing resolution or “CR,” which would continue spending after Sept. 30, 2013, the end of the 2013 fiscal year. As it stands now, the government’s legal authority to borrow more money runs out in mid-October, 2013. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, if that date arrived on October 18, the Treasury “would be about $106 billion short of paying all bills owed between October 18 and November 15. The congressionally mandated limit on federal borrowing is currently set at $16.7 trillion. The debt limit has been raised 13 times since 2001 and has grown from about 55 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2001 to 102 percent of GDP last year. The hoped for legislation will raise the debt ceiling through Dec. 31, 2014.

Prelude to Crisis

from Maudlin Economics,

Ignoring problems rarely solves them. You need to deal with them—not just the effects, but the underlying causes, or else they usually get worse. The older you get, the more you know that is true in almost every area of life. In the developed world and especially the US, and even in China, our economic challenges are rapidly approaching that point. Things that would have been easily fixed a decade ago, or even five years ago, will soon be unsolvable by conventional means.

Central bankers are politicians, ... and in some ways far more powerful and dangerous than the elected ones. There is almost no willingness to face our top problems

One was this passage which succinctly captures my feelings about the Fed. (Context: This was part of my response to Ray Dalio’s comments on Modern Monetary Theory.) Beginning with Greenspan, we have now had 30+ years of ever-looser monetary policy accompanied by lower rates. This created a series of asset bubbles whose demises wreaked economic havoc. Artificially low rates created the housing bubble, exacerbated by regulatory failure and reinforced by a morally bankrupt financial system. And with the system completely aflame, we asked the arsonist to put out the fire, with very few observers acknowledging the irony. Yes, we did indeed need the Federal Reserve to provide liquidity during the initial crisis. But after that, the Fed kept rates too low for too long, reinforcing the wealth and income disparities and creating new bubbles we will have to deal with in the not-too-distant future. This wasn’t a “beautiful deleveraging” as you call it. It was the ugly creation of bubbles and misallocation of capital. The Fed shouldn’t have blown these bubbles in the first place. The simple conceit that 12 men and women sitting around the table can decide the most important price in the world (short-term interest rates) better than the market itself is beginning to wear thin. Keeping rates too low for too long in the current cycle brought massive capital misallocation. It resulted in the financialization of a significant part of the business world, in the US and elsewhere. The rules now reward management, not for generating revenue, but to drive up the price of the share price, thus making their options and stock grants more valuable. Coordinated monetary policy is the problem, not the solution. And while I have little hope for change in that regard, I have no hope that monetary policy will rescue us from the next crisis. Let me amplify that last line: Not only is there no hope monetary policy will save us from the next crisis, it will help cause the next crisis. The process has already begun.

Radical Actions In September of this year, something still unexplained (at least to my satisfaction, although I know many analysts who believe they know the reasons) happened in the “repo” short-term financing market. Liquidity dried up, interest rates spiked, and the Fed stepped in to save the day. I wrote about it at the time in Decoding the Fed.

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