Category Archives: federal reserve z1 debt data

America’s Debts 2021: Z1 Data from the Federal Reserve and Related Commentary

Last Thursday the Federal Reserve released its 2021 Z1 data on, among other things, America’s debts.  There is some good news.  Sort of.  For those who are not average workers, not paying rent, not hoping to buy a house, and not hoping to invest their savings for retirement and have it be worth more than what they put in years later when they retire, rather than less.  Total U.S. credit market debt, after having soared from 330.3% of total U.S. GDP in 2019 to 374.6% of U.S. GDP in 2020, a shocking increase, then plunged to 361.1% of GDP in 2021.  It is still higher by 30.8% compared with 2019, and by 192.6% of GDP compared with 1980, before the “buy now and hope someone else will be stuck paying later” era began.  But the 13.5% decrease in debt as a percent of GDP is still the largest since at least 1953.

How was this accomplished?  Did Americans, American businesses, and American governments suddenly start reducing their debts by a massive amount?  Uh – no.  In straight dollars total credit market debt increased 6.1%, financial debt increased 5.8%, non-financial debt increased 6.2%, household/non-profit debt increased 7.3%, corporate debt increased 5.2%, other business debt increased 3.6%, state and local government debt increased 1.9%, and U.S. government debt increased 7.2%.   But in straight dollars, nominal GDP increased by 10.1%, even more, in part due to an expected snap back from COVID-19 shutdowns, but also in part due to soaring inflation.  The Economist magazine said years (decades?) ago that Generation Greed had run up so much debt that the choice was to inflate it away, default it away, or face stagnation for decades as it is paid back.  That was back when total U.S. debts were far lower than today.

https://www.economist.com/special-report/2010/06/26/in-a-hole

https://www.economist.com/buttonwoods-notebook/2013/05/22/can-it-be-inflated-away

No one is prepared to admit that today the goal is inflate away debts (and the buying power of wages and ordinary people’s savings).  Then again, would anyone have predicted 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, or 40 years ago that the Federal Funds rate (controlled by the Federal Reserve) would be at 0.08% at a time when inflation has soared to its highest level since 1982?

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Sold Out Futures:  A State-By-State Comparison of State and Local Government Debts, Past Infrastructure Investment, and Unfunded Pension Liabilities Through FY 2019

In two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, with society under stress, we have seen increasingly strident political fights over whose cultural attitudes and preferences should be imposed on others, who should get to contribute less to the community, and who should get to take out more.  In the shadows, however, is a bipartisan consensus as to who should be made worse off and be sacrificed the rest of their lives to pay for it all.  Ordinary people in later born generations, those who will be living in the United States in the future.   The pandemic has given politicians of all alleged views, and the interest groups that back them, an excuse to do, to an even greater extent, what they have done for 40 years.  Cash in the common future to address the perpetual “emergency” of the present.

So it was in Washington in 2020 when The Donald and the Republicans, having already sent the federal debt soaring to cut taxes for the rich and then ran a federal deficit equal to one-quarter of the U.S. economy.

And so it is in Washington today, where Biden in the Democrats claim their plans will be “paid for” – meaning the burden shifted to the future would only be as great as it was under Trump and the Republicans.

It is in this context that for the fifth time, I have reprised an analysis of state and local government finance data from the U.S. Census Bureau, for all states and for New York City and the Rest of New York State separately, with data over 49 years, to determine the extent to which each state’s future had been sold out due to state and local government debts, inadequate past infrastructure investment, and underfunded and retroactively enriched public employee pensions.   You’d think that the extent of disadvantage for the later-born, and who benefitted from creating it, would be the number one issue in every state election, and the number one topic of debate in the media.  Instead, it remains under Omerta, especially here in New York.  Shouted down under the comforting culture war issues that Generation Greed prefers.  So, although standing up for the later born and common future may amount to nothing more than standing on the beach shouting into a hurricane as a social tsunami heads for shore, over the past month I have updated the “Sold Out Future” analysis with data through FY 2019.  This post, a national summary and explanation of where the data comes from and how it was used, and the next three, will show what I found.

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