25 Sep 2016

Private Debt

A chap called Richard Vague seems to know what he is talking about when it comes to private debt. His essay in Democracy, A Journal of Ideas is called The Private Debt Crisis and comes with the strapline: "China is drowning in it. The whole world has too much of it. History suggests: This won’t end well." The essay is reprinted in Evonomics where it is called How to Suffocate Your Economy: Drown it in Massive Private Debt.

The essay looks mainly at USA private debt, but the remarks are salient to any economy. When your consumers have large aggregate debts the interest payments become a significant proportion of income and they become reluctant to spend. We get slowdown in demand, which ripples through the economy and undermines growth.
"a growing body of research suggests that when private debt enters the range of 100 to 150 percent of GDP, it impedes economic growth."
Vague points out that high levels of private debt also makes consumers and businesses unwilling to borrow more. Borrowing for investment is a fundamental principle of the capitalist economy. I would point out that, until the modern era, this is how banks made their money. Now of course, banks make 90% of their money by speculating on asset and commodity prices and derivatives.

The essay also looks at the situation in China where private debt has been growing rapidly and seems likely to be the next flash point in the global economy. That much private debt accumulated that quickly, cannot help but cause problems.

The essay finishes with some ideas on how to alleviate the problems caused by private debt. This blog is inspired by Steve Keen's idea of the modern debt jubilee (government gives money to consumers instead of banks, with the proviso that they must pay down debt before spending).

What the essay does not do is address the fundamental problem that leads to very high levels of private debt and repeated economic crisis. The actions of governments in the 1970s and 1980s who stripped away of regulation designed to prevent exactly this ought to come under scrutiny. We know how to prevent this happening.

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Keep is seemly & on-topic. Thanks.