Since it began to give credit ratings to nations in 1917, Moody's has rated the United States triple-A. U.S. Treasury bonds have been seen as the most secure investment on earth. When crises erupt, nervous money seeks out the world's great safe harbor, the United States. That reputation is now in peril.
Last week, Moody's warned that if the United States fails to rein in the soaring cost of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the nation's credit rating will be down-graded within a decade. [US's triple-A credit rating 'under threat', Financial Times, January 11 2008]
Our political parties seem oblivious. Republicans, save Ron Paul, are all promising to expand the U.S. military and maintain all of our worldwide commitments to defend scores of nations.
Democrats, with entitlement costs drowning the federal budget in red ink, are proposing a new entitlement—universal health coverage for the near 50 million who do not have it—another magnet for illegal aliens. Moody’s is telling America it needs a time of austerity, while the U.S. government is behaving like the governments we used to bail out.
California has already hit the wall. With an economy as large as a G-8 nation, the Golden State is looking at a $14-billion deficit in 2009 and a $3-billion shortfall in 2008. Governor Schwarzenegger has called for slashing prison staff by 6,000, including 2,000 guards, early release of 22,000 inmates, closing four dozen state parks and a 10-percent across-the-board cut in all state agencies. The Democratic legislature is demanding tax hikes, which would drive more taxpayers back over the mountains whence their fathers came.
Meanwhile, Washington drifts mindlessly toward the maelstrom. With the dollar sinking, oil surging to $100 a barrel, the Dow having its worst January in memory, foreclosures mounting, credit- card debt going rotten, and consumers and businesses unable or unwilling to borrow, we appear headed into recession.
If so, tax revenue will fall and spending on unemployment will surge. The price of the stimulus packages both parties are preparing will further add to the deficit and further imperil the U.S. credit rating. This all comes in the year that the first of the baby boomers reach early retirement and eligibility for Social Security.
To stave off recession, the Fed appears anxious to slash interest rates another half-point, if not more. That will further weaken the dollar and raise the costs of the imports to which we have become addicted. While all this is bad news for the Republicans, it is worse news for the Republic. As we save nothing, we must borrow both to pay for the imported oil and foreign manufactures upon which we have become dependent.
We are thus in the position of having to borrow from Europe to defend Europe, of having to borrow from China and Japan to defend Chinese and Japanese access to Gulf oil, and of having to borrow from Arab emirs, sultans and monarchs to make Iraq safe for democracy.
We borrow from the nations we defend so that we may continue to defend them. To question this is an unpardonable heresy called “isolationism.”
And the chickens of globalism are coming home to roost.
We let Europe get away with imposing value-added taxes averaging 15 percent on our exports to them, while they rebate that value-added tax on their exports to us. Thus the euro has almost doubled in value against the dollar in the Bush years, as NATO Europe begins to bail out on Iraq and Afghanistan.
We sat still as Japan protected her markets and dumped high-quality goods into ours and China undervalued its currency to suck jobs, technology, and factories out of the United States. Now China and Japan have $2 trillion in cash reserves. The Arabs have an equal amount of petrodollars. Both are heading here to spend their depreciating dollars snapping up U.S. assets—banks, ports, highways, defense contractors.
America, to pay her bills, has begun to sell herself to the world.
Its balance sheet gutted by the subprime mortgage crisis, Citicorp got a $7.5-billion injection from Abu Dhabi and is now fishing for $1 billion from Kuwait and $9 billion from China. Beijing has put $5 billion into Morgan Stanley and bought heavily into Barclays Bank.
Merrill Lynch, ravaged by subprime mortgage losses, sold part of itself to Singapore for $7.5 billion and is seeking another $3 billion to $4 billion from the Arabs. Swiss-based UBS, taking a near $15 billion write-down in subprime mortgages, has gotten an infusion of $10 billion from Singapore.
Bain Capital is partnering with China’s Huawei Technologies in a buyout of 3Com, the U.S. company that provides the technology that protects Pentagon computers from Chinese hackers.
This self-indulgent generation has borrowed itself into unpayable debt. Now the folks from whom we borrowed to buy all that oil and all those cars, electronics, and clothes are coming to buy the country we inherited. We are prodigal sons, and the day of reckoning approaches.