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Debt Ceiling or Not, We Are Already Defaulting

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By: 
Jacob Hornberger
May 11, 2011

The doomsday crowd claims that the sky will fall in if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling. If the ceiling isn't raised, they say, the federal government will be forced to default on its debt payments, which apparently will then cause the sky to fall in.

That's, of course, ridiculous. For one thing, just because the federal government isn't permitted to add to its ever-soaring mountain of debt doesn't mean that it will be forced to default on debt payments. With the $2.2 trillion it collects in tax revenues, it can give first priority to debt payments.
 
But let's assume there is a default. Will the sky fall in, as the doomsayers claim?
 
Not likely. After all, thanks to the Federal Reserve, the federal government is already defaulting on its debts – and has been for decades.
 
While the ostensible purpose of the Federal Reserve is to “stabilize” the money supply, its real purpose is to enable public officials to spend as much money as they want by borrowing it and then letting the Federal Reserve pay off its creditors with newly printed, debased, cheapened, devalued dollars.
 
That's precisely what the Fed is doing now, has been doing recently, and has been doing ever since it was established in 1913. It “monetizes” the government's debt by printing the money to pay it off. The inflated supply of money cheapens the value of the money in circulation, which means that bondholders are being repaid in currency that is worth less than it was when they loaned it.
 
That's a default.
 
Let's assume I loan the government $1,000 at 10 percent interest, with the note payable one year from now. The year passes. The government owes me $1,100. The government doesn't have the money to pay me because all of its tax revenues are devoted to welfare and warfare, which the big spenders in Congress are dead-set on continuing.
 
The members of Congress are reluctant to raise taxes to pay me back for two reasons: one, they know that overtaxed people get upset over more taxes, and, two, they're concerned that more taxes will kill the private sector that funds the welfare-warfare state
 
No problem. The big spenders simply turn to the Fed to do the dirty work for them. The Fed cranks up the printing presses and starts printing large quantities of new money to pay me and the other creditors whose debts are now due.
 
The government sends me its newly printed $1,100 to pay off my debt. But there is one big problem: That $1,100 now only buys 90 percent of what it used to. Due to the Fed's expansion of the money supply, the dollar has been debased or devalued by, say, 10 percent.
 
The government has not complied with its promise to pay me $1,100. It has instead paid me in money now worth $990.
 
That's a default because the government isn't paying me what I am owed.
 
That's what the Fed has been doing for decades. That's why the dollar is worth about 5 percent of what it was worth in 1913, when the Fed was established. Decade after decade, the Fed has expanded the money supply to accommodate the big spenders in Congress (and the big-spending President), thereby debasing and devaluing the currency. Throughout most of that time, the government's creditors have been paid off in cheapened, debased, devalued dollars.
 
While decades of continuous default have brought monetary chaos, the sky has never fallen in.
 
Needless to say, the big spenders in Congress love the Fed. They know that they can keep spending and borrowing to their hearts' content and not have to incur voter wrath by raising taxes. They know that the Fed will always come to their rescue by printing the money to pay for their big spending and big borrowing.
 
The citizens, of course, have no idea what is occurring. All they see is soaring prices (initially gold, silver, oil, gasoline, and other commodities, and, later, retail prices in general). Unaware that the government itself – through the Fed – is the culprit, the citizens blame the rising prices on greed, speculation, the banksters, the profiteers, the capitalists, the middle men, the entrepreneurs, and perhaps even the illegal aliens.
 
Our American ancestors had it right. That's why they lived for more than 100 years with no Federal Reserve and no welfare-warfare state and a way of life based on economic liberty, sound money, private property, the free market, and a limited-government, constitutional republic.
 
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He is a regular writer for the Foundation's publication, Freedom Daily, and is a co-editor or contributor to the eight books that have been published by the Foundation.
 
Originally published on April 29, 2011 at CampaignForLiberty.com. Jacob G. Hornberger, the Future of Freedom Foundation, and Campaign for Liberty are not affiliated with Euro Pacific Capital, Inc. Euro Pacific Capital does not guarantee the accuracy and completeness of third-party authored content.