Dear reader, Paul Getty once famously said that 'a billion dollars isn't worth what it used to be'. Clearly one could now say that 'a trillion dollars isn't worth what it used to be'. We have become numb to the ever larger numbers that are used by politician and economists to describe our current circumstances. It made me wonder what comes after a trillion. My initial thought was a bazillion or gazillion. Much to my surprise several friends were able to correctly identify that after a trillion, the next number is a quadrillion. Give yourself a pat on the back if you were able to correctly identify this number.
A very big number
To help understand this number I will use it in context. For example, the combined debt and unfunded liabilities of Europe and the United States is estimated to be ¼ of a quadrillion dollars. That is a very big number. I do not wish to be an alarmist but is it not credible to believe that budgets, prognostications, and commentary that discuss trillions and quadrillions of dollars should be viewed with anything but derision and laughter [or tears]. If you need proof of this fact consider this. The manufacturers of calculators all over the world do not give their calculators the space to calculate numbers such as a trillion dollars. The manufactures correctly recognized that humans could not seriously track or comprehend a number of this magnitude.
How do they do it?
Ask yourself this dear reader, if the world's calculators do not allow the input of numbers in the trillions, how then are our leaders keeping track of their budgets? Are they using their fingers and toes? Perhaps an Abacus, [Actually, that might work]. The answer is logically, that they are not keeping track anymore, they are making it up as they go along. Q.E.D.
Forrest Gump touted to head the ECB
When Mr. Draghi announces unlimited bond buying the markets cheered the news. Even Forrest Gump would recognize that infinite bond buying is absurd unless one believes that capital is infinite. Mr. Draghi is not unleashing a bazooka; he is pulling the pin on a grenade in a crowded room.
Lower the mainsail, Full speed ahead
Any attempt at serious economic analysis of money and debt that includes discussion of trillions and quadrillions of dollars is a delusional attempt to convince ourselves that the economic system is still in our control.
Dear reader, as it relates to the loss of control of our economic system, may I respectfully say, "That ship has sailed." We are now steering a course deep into the 'Bermuda Triangle' of global economic risk. Greece is currently leading the fleet but there are many countries, large and small tacking hard, to catch up to Greece. Did you know that France, that pillar of economic reason, responsibility and leadership in Europe, has not balanced its budget in 40 years? Yikes!
Budgets and bailouts that include trillions, quadrillions or numbers that rise to the level of 'infinity and beyond' are no longer relevant. They are ridiculous and should be greeted with derision and laughter. By all means continue to have discourse on the policies of central banks and government finances. My only caveat is that these discussions and presentations by the world's economists and wise people should take place in a local Comedy Club rather than being the allowed the gravitas attached to presentations made in the halls of government.
Why do they call it debt?
It is extraordinary that governments are still allowed to refer to their borrowings as debt. According to Investorpedia debt is defined as 'A debt arrangement gives the borrowing party permission to borrow money under the condition that it is to be paid back at a later date, usually with interest.'
The world seems to have mastered the first part of the debt equation, that is permission to borrow money, the second part, to pay it back at later date is proving to be somewhat vexing. Perhaps I am being too subtle. The second part, to pay it back a later date is impossible. 50 trillion dollars of government borrowing that can never be repaid can no longer be classified as debt.
However, if we do not call it debt, then what should we call it? The British have, perhaps, an appropriate phrase. It describes a form of borrowing called the 'never-never'. The term never-never implies that the borrower may or may not make the required payments and will certainly never pay back the borrowed capital. If economists started referring to the government debt as government 'never-never' the public might start to understand how close to the rocks we are sailing. Another option to the word debt could be the word 'poof'. Merriam Webster defines 'poof' as follows: Poof is used to say that something has happened suddenly or that someone or something has disappeared For example I took a pill andpoof--my headache vanished.And my own example, 'When Greece declares bankruptcy then poof their debt will be gone.'
Global government debt cannot and will not be repaid to the lender. It will spontaneously disappear as nations willingly or unwillingly repudiate their debt.
No calculator required
Dear reader let us acknowledge this reality. In future, let us ask our leaders to refer to government debt as government poof. Furthermore, since there is no hope of any of the capital of the 50 trillion dollars of global government debt ever being repaid we should not require governments to attach a number to the amount of poof they are utilizing. Since the money will never be repaid back it should certainly be sufficient for a finance minister to simply say that government will take on some more poof to meet their country's needs. Mr. Draghi can simply say that the ECB will buy as much poof as Spain or any other country wants them to. Poof!, the debt crisis is over. No more calculators required. Whether you favor calling it government 'never-never' or government 'poof' you must agree these terms more accurately reflect current circumstances.