There is no reason to lay off teachers and to cancel infrastructure spending when the rest of the world is willing to pay us to take their money.
Money for Nothing - NYTimes.com
So investors are, in a sense, offering governments free money for the next 10 years; in fact, they’re willing to pay governments a modest fee for keeping their wealth safe.
Now, those with a vested interest in the fiscal crisis story have made various attempts to explain away the failure of that crisis to materialize. One favorite is the claim that the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates artificially low by buying government bonds. But that theory was put to the test last summer when the Fed temporarily suspended bond purchases. Many people — including Bill Gross of the giant bond fund Pimco — predicted a rate spike. Nothing happened.
Oh, and pay no attention to the warnings that any day now we’ll turn into Greece, Greece I tell you. Countries like Greece, and for that matter Spain, are suffering from their ill-advised decision to give up their own currencies for the euro, which has left them vulnerable in a way that America just isn’t.
So what is going on? The main answer is that this is what happens when you have a “deleveraging shock,” in which everyone is trying to pay down debt at the same time. Household borrowing has plunged; businesses are sitting on cash because there’s no reason to expand capacity when the sales aren’t there; and the result is that investors are all dressed up with nowhere to go, or rather no place to put their money. So they’re buying government debt, even at very low returns, for lack of alternatives. Moreover, by making money available so cheaply, they are in effect begging governments to issue more debt.
And governments should be granting their wish, not obsessing over short-term deficits.
Obligatory caveat: yes, we have a long-run budget problem, and we should be taking steps to address that problem, mainly by reining in health care costs. But it’s simply crazy to be laying off schoolteachers and canceling infrastructure projects at a time when investors are offering zero- or negative-interest financing.
You don’t even have to make a Keynesian argument about jobs to see that. All you have to do is note that when money is cheap, that’s a good time to invest. And both education and infrastructure are investments in America’s future; we’ll eventually pay a large and completely gratuitous price for the way they’re being savaged.