Rocky Vega

In a recent article, Simon Johnson, a former IMF chief economist and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, paints an revealing picture of how he envisions a debt default devastating the US economy.

The portrait is that of a series of ever more destructive dominoes toppling over — with ruined US Treasuries swiftly leading to broken money-market funds and corrupted bank balance sheets — combining to result in an unparalleled run into cash and the evisceration of corporate credit.

From Project Syndicate:

“The reason is simple: a government default would destroy the credit system as we know it. The fundamental benchmark interest rates in modern financial markets are the so-called “risk-free” rates on government bonds. Removing this pillar of the system – or creating a high degree of risk around US Treasuries – would disrupt many private contracts and all kinds of transactions.

“In addition, many people and firms hold their “rainy day money” in the form of US Treasuries. The money-market funds that are perceived to be the safest, for example, are those that hold only US government debt. If the US government defaults, however, all of them will “break the buck,” meaning that they will be unable to maintain the principal value of the money that has been placed with them.

“The result would be capital flight – but to where? Many banks would have a similar problem: a collapse in US Treasury prices (the counterpart of higher interest rates, as bond prices and interest rates move in opposite directions) would destroy their balance sheets.

“There is no company in the US that would be unaffected by a government default – and no bank or other financial institution that could provide a secure haven for savings. There would be a massive run into cash, on an order not seen since the Great Depression, with long lines of people at ATMs and teller windows withdrawing as much as possible.”

Alongside the worst outcomes, Johnson also highlights the likelihood that a default would perversely increase the relative size of government as compared to what would become the rapidly shrinking private sector of the US economy. You can read more details in the Project Syndicate post on how the nation could end up defaulting to big government.

Best,

Rocky Vega,
The Daily Reckoning

Rocky Vega

Rocky Vega is publisher of Agora Financial International, where he advances the growth of Agora Financial publishing enterprises outside of the US. Previously, he was publisher of The Daily Reckoning, and founding publisher of both UrbanTurf and RFID Update -- which he ran from Brazil, Chile, and Puerto Rico -- as well as associate publisher of FierceFinance. Rocky has an honors MS from the Stockholm School of Economics and an honors BA from Harvard University, where he served on the board of directors for Let?s Go Publications, Harvard Student Agencies, and The Harvard Advocate.

  • John

    Debt is slavery.

  • http://homeschool-college.blogspot.com cpascal

    The money market funds should never have been considered a “risk-free” investment, because there’s no such thing. Although US Treasuries could be considered low-risk, you never know what’s going to happen in the future. It should be especially considered that the US government is already $14.3 trillion in debt, and that the US economy has never been the same since 9/11.

Recent Articles

Addison Wiggin
A Manifesto, of Sorts

Addison Wiggin

More than a decade ago, Addison Wiggin helped co-found the Daily Reckoning with Bill Bonner. Today, he recalls this life-changing experience, and explains how - despite being rooted in the world of finance - it is and will always be about much more than money. Read on...


4 DIY Halloween Costumes You Can Make in 10 Minutes or Less

Peter Coyne

Halloween is tonight! And just in case you waited until the last second to think about what you're going to wear, here are four costume ideas you can easily put together in about 10 minutes or less. With these costumes you'll be the hit of your friend's party - provided you're friends with a bunch of economists. (Downloadable masks included...) Happy Halloween!


Bill Bonner
4 Basic Truths to Help You Navigate the Financial News

Bill Bonner

The financial news is full of misinformation - reported by unreliable pundits and taken at face value by an easily swayed public that doesn't really no better. That's why today, Bill Bonner relays the four basic truths he's discovered during his 30 year career in the financial industry to help you make sense of it all. Read on...


Extra!
How YOU Can Help Pass the Swiss Gold Referendum

Grant Williams

For those who doubt the effectiveness of the Swiss Gold Initiative, Grant Williams has a few startling charts to show you. Today, he relays just how popular this movement is, and how you can actually influence the outcome... no matter where in the world you call home. Read on...


How Small Cap Stocks Saved the Market

Greg Guenthner

For most of the year, no one wanted small cap stocks in their portfolios. But over the last three weeks, few sectors of the market have performed better than small caps. Greg Guenthner explains how to use this to your advantage... and what to expect for the rest of 2014. Read on...