BIS: Western World Spending Its Way To Disaster

13 May

From the UK’s Globe and Mail:

The Swiss-based Bank of International Settlements (BIS), the oldest international financial institution in the world, has functioned as the central bank of central bankers for 80 years. In a working paper written by three senior staff economists (“The future of public debt: prospects and implications”), released in March, BIS warns that Greece isn’t the only Western economy with hazard lights flashing.

Indeed, it names 11 more: Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Britain – and the United States. Without “drastic measures,” BIS says, all of these countries will hit a wall of debt.

When the senior economists at BIS warn 12 of the richest countries on Earth that they must take drastic action to reduce debt, you know that it’s time to check the air bags. The only thing you don’t know, that you need to know, is the precise time of the crash. The lesson is already obvious: Governments can’t drive recklessly, use only the accelerator for braking and not eventually crash.

By the end of 2011, the BIS economists calculate, U.S. government debt will have risen from 62 per cent of GDP in 2007, not quite three years ago, to 100 per cent. Britain’s debt will have risen from 47 per cent of GDP to 94 per cent. Italy’s debt will have risen from 112 per cent of GDP to 130 per cent. All together, the public debt of the 12 countries will have risen from 73 per cent of combined GDP to 105 per cent.

At this debt level, the risk of sovereign default rises rapidly. But the BIS analysis says this unprecedented debt level will itself increase “precipitously” in coming years. It will not, as each of these countries separately insists, fall.

For one thing, the BIS report says, countries that proclaim spending restraint generally do not actually do it. Normally, they hold the line – temporarily. Normally, they slow the rate of increase – temporarily. All pronouncements aside, the BIS report says, these 12 countries have made such grandiose spending commitments that they are predestined for higher debt. The U.S. debt-GDP ratio will hit 150 per cent in the next decade. Britain’s debt-GDP ratio will hit 200 per cent. Japan’s debt-GDP ratio will hit 300 per cent.

These increases in debt, the BIS report says, are untenable. The financial markets, of course, won’t permit them. The only mystery, the BIS report says, is exactly when the markets will intervene. History shows, the report says, that when the markets do rebel, they often do so instantaneously and decisively – often without much warning.

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