Why paying off all of the American debt in the early 2000s might have caused problems

Many people would suggest that the United States needs to tackle its growing debt problem. But a government report from the early 2000s suggests that paying off all the debt could have some negative consequences:

If the U.S. paid off its debt there would be no more U.S. Treasury bonds in the world…

But the U.S. has been issuing bonds for so long, and the bonds are seen as so safe, that much of the world has come to depend on them. The U.S. Treasury bond is a pillar of the global economy.

Banks buy hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth, because they’re a safe place to park money.

Mortgage rates are tied to the interest rate on U.S. treasury bonds.

The Federal Reserve — our central bank — buys and sells Treasury bonds all the time, in an effort to keep the economy on track.

If Treasury bonds disappeared, would the world unravel? Would it adjust somehow?

“I probably thought about this piece easily 16 hours a day, and it took me a long time to even start writing it,” says Jason Seligman, the economist who wrote most of the report…

In the end, Seligman concluded it was a good idea to pay down the debt — but not to pay it off entirely.

So which party or movement would support this? Would it be best to have a more flexible debt (small to large depending on the more immediate economic circumstances) or would it be better to have a more stable, small amount of debt?

I don’t know the intricacies of how this might all play out but it is a reminder of the globalization of finance: doing something that might be viewed as desirable in the United States would not only affect other sectors of American life but how other countries can operate. It would be interesting to know how we got to this point. Does every major country basically have some debt that other countries are counting on?

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