Friday, August 5, 2011

Up, Down, Turn Around

I want to thank S&P for providing me with this evening's quota of humor.  If you're going to do something as momentous as downgrading the U.S. Government's credit rating, at least get the numbers right first.  And after embarrassing itself so thoroughly, I suspect S&P went through with the change mostly so it could distract everybody from its foolishness.

On the sober, serious side, Salmon has some good comments on the situation.  The US remains the richest country in the world, with very low tax rates compared with other industrialized countries.  But the political risk of default is very, very real.  Heck, if "the deal" had been bad enough, I would have been willing to bring on the default.  As it turned out, the deal is merely mildly counterproductive - at least until the new and improved Catfood Commission II reports in.  But the entire crisis was purposely contrived to extract spending cuts that the Teahadists wouldn't have been able to negotiate with the Senate and White House.  The best analogy I can come up with is a doctor holding a pneumonia patient hostage by threatening to shoot the patient unless the doctor is allowed to amputate a leg.  The US is suffering through a huge jobs crisis, but the Teahadists want to cut government spending, and they were willing shut the US government down and ruin its credit rating in order to get what they wanted.  Fortunately (or not), all they got was a promise to consider amputation in a few months.

BREAKING!  MUST CREDIT... just about everyone.  Okay, here's some text from S&P's release:
We lowered our long-term rating on the U.S. because we believe that the prolonged controversy over raising the statutory debt ceiling and the related fiscal policy debate indicate that further near-term progress containing the growth in public spending, especially on entitlements, or on reaching an agreement on raising revenues is less likely than we previously assumed and will remain a contentious and fitful process.
Heh-indeedy.  Unfortunately, the rest is worse.  But that's not surprising, as the way S&P inserted itself in the debate to begin with showed that it was clearly on one side.  The release as whole is basically a continuation of their pressure to act in a certain way.

Added: Krugman weighs in with a somewhat harsher view of S&P than Salmon.

Added: Drum thinks the risk of actual default was and is remote.  I used to think that, but I no longer believe that the Teahadists are under anybody's control.

Added: Here's a good post on why the practical effects of a downgrade - even by all three agencies - are likely to be minimal.  I largely agree, though I would qualify it with "in the short term" more explicitly. Another qualifier that I would add is "provided nothing bad happens elsewhere."  A breakup of the Euro would send investors piling into any US asset, especially Treasuries, driving down yields sharply.

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