A special report on debt: Repent at leisure

by Dave

Why do people, companies and countries borrow? One obvious answer is that it is the only way they can maintain their desired level of spending. Another reason is optimism; they believe the return on the borrowed money will be greater than the cost of servicing the debt. Crucially, creditors must believe that debtors’ incomes will rise; otherwise how would they be able to pay the interest and repay the capital?

But in parts of the rich world such optimism may now be misplaced. With ageing populations and shrinking workforces, their economies may grow more slowly than they have done in the past. They may have borrowed from the future, using debt to enjoy a standard of living that is unsustainable. Greece provides a stark example. Standard & Poor’s, a rating agency, estimates that its GDP will not regain its 2008 level until 2017.

Rising government debt is a Ponzi scheme that requires an ever-growing population to assume the burden—unless some deus ex machina, such as a technological breakthrough, can boost growth. As Roland Nash, head of research at Renaissance Capital, an investment bank, puts it: “Can the West, with its regulated industry, uncompetitive labour and large government, afford its borrowing-funded living standards and increasingly expensive public sectors?”

The answer to the last questions is no. Consequently, over the next 2 decades, a wave of sovereign defaults will occur in the West, starting in Europe – in the PIIGS group of countries and/or Eastern Europe, and finally ending in the U.S. Good video ‘Money as Debt‘ about monetary systems instituted by banking.

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