Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Ni hao, can you spare me a dime?

It was reported today that 80% of all U.S. government notes with a maturity of between 3 - 10 years are held by foreign investors. EIGHTY PERCENT. Historians stated that not since the 19th century when the railroad systems were being built have foreigners funded so much U.S. debt.

Does this represent the efficient globalization of capital markets or is it a cause for concern. Should something be done. Senator Clinton has apparently raised the idea of legislation that puts limits on the amount of debt that foreign investors can hold. In a market with global liquidity, such a move would likely be received with as much market enthusiasm as Thailand's ill conceived and failed market intervention some months ago. That being said, it's an issue that deserves attention, and at least Senator Clinton has raised it.

Is the debt being used to rebuild aging infrastructure, secure water and energy sources through this century, aggressively address environmental issues or rebuild the primary and secondary educational systems of the country. We know the answer is no to that. It's being used to fund the consumption of consumer goods produced by our investors, to fund the expenditures of a Congress that is always looking to that next election, and to fight a war. One should note that this situation is not a result of the foreign investment. It is simply funded at a lower cost due to the access to global liquidity.

Is America taking out a giant no down payment, teaser rate subprime loan to support its lifestyle. Not yet one would hope, but our priorities seem to need addressing. Is it possible that what will be an interminable election season could have some candidates actually discuss issues like this. All the promises will be made but will the trade-offs be discussed.

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