This week's essay:
Sure, you can devalue those claims through inflation, but only if the debt is in the form of long-maturity bonds (which is why the recent discussion of issuing 50-100 year Treasury bonds seems understandable but also a bit nefarious). At shorter maturities, inflation just raises the interest rate that the government has to pay when the shorter-term debt is rolled over. Though the weighted-average maturity of Treasury debt is currently longer than normal, the average is still only 5.8 years, and half of the debt will have to be rolled over by 2019, at whatever interest rates emerge in the interim. Ultimately, debt implies a future transfer of purchasing power, and provides only a few choices. Either you raise adequate tax revenue, or you denominate the debt in long-term bonds and devalue them through inflation, or you default, or you violate the social contract made with those who don't hold paper claims (e.g. Social Security beneficiaries) in preference for those who do.I've written that "a treasury bond is a certificate that money has successfully been expended on section 8 housing, or on make-work military 'jobs'."
Had the borrowing resulted in productive investment, future output would be easily available to meet those claims. Instead, what’s going on is a quiet dilution of future living standards. That’s only going to be reversed by thoughtful policies, focused more on long-term productivity than near-term gains. Even massive debt-financed spending will not help unless the projects are intentionally designed to durably enhance the long-term productivity of the U.S. economy, to avoid duplicative capacity, and to relieve constraints that threaten to become binding in the future (personally, I remain convinced that renewable energy should be central to that list).
Also, Hussman understands that another piece of the problem was the falling worker/retiree ratio.