August 06, 2011

Declining US Power: Standard and Poor Downgrades US Government Debt

After the American Century

The decision is a milestone on the road to decline. Standard and Poor has decided that US government debt is no longer worthy of the highest trust. It has only been downgraded slightly, but the meaning of this event is huge. The US dollar and more specjfically US government debt has been the definition of the safest place to put your money since c. 1941. No longer. A canny investor today would want to spread the risk a bit, and also would expect to be paid a bit higher interest for investing in US government securities. The AAA rating that the US has lost is retained by Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and the UK, so these currencies will be strengthened -- something that is good but not entirely a benefit, as it hurts their exports.
The American taxpayer suddenly has a much higher debt to pay back, as the interest rate will now rise accordingly. It will cost billions of dollars that might have been used to jump-start the economy or build green energy systems. The long free ride is over. The US taxpayer will have to learn, and then have to teach the Republican Party, that a nation must pay its debts. It has to look credit-worthy. It has to have a credible tax code that generates enough income to pay the bills.

Sadly, I predict that things will get worse before they get better. I fear that instead of raising enough revenue and/or cutting enough programs to be credible, the Democrats and Republicans will wrangle and point fingers and carry their discussions into the 2012 political campaign. If they do so, the credibility of US government securities will continue to decline.

Meanwhile, China has a huge surplus in trade and no such problems. The shift of global power is evident.