Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ezra Klein makes a point that should be obvious but apparently isn't

Yesterday's Washington Post had an excellent piece by Klein yesterday, Here's the money shot:
Actually, I got something wrong there. I said “almost nothing.” But that 1.459 percent doesn’t account for inflation. And so when you do account for inflation, it’s not “almost nothing.” It’s “less than nothing.” Here are the latest “real yield curves” for Treasurys, which is to say, the yields after adjusting for inflation:

They’re negative. Negative! The market will literally pay us a small premium to take their money and keep it safe for them for five, seven or 10 years. We could use that money to rebuild our roads and water filtration systems. We could use that money to cut taxes for any business that adds to its payrolls. We could use that to hire back the 600,000 state and local workers we’ve laid off in the last few years. 
Or, as Larry Summers has written, we could simply accelerate payments we know we’ll need to make anyway. We could move up maintenance projects, replace our military equipment or buy space we’re currently leasing. All of that would leave the government in a better fiscal position going forward, not to mention help the economy. 
The fact that we’re not doing any of this isn’t just a lost opportunity. It’s financial mismanagement on an epic scale.
As noted before, Paul Krugman and company spend a great deal of time arguing that financially  governments are not like households or businesses. It's a valid point, but the economists making it often lose sight of the fact that, in this context, it's also a moot one. In this situation, a government, a family or a business, if responsibly managed, would take advantage of these better-than-free funds for investment and maintenance.

There is no context in which our current course makes sense.

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