The United States Economy has become like those sub-prime mortgages that almost brought down the banking system last year.  We have borrowed more than we can afford but as long as interest rates stay low, we will be able to make payments. Once rates go up, the federal government will have to “default on its homes.”

Even the NY Times is predicting economic problems for America:

…Treasury officials now face a trifecta of headaches: a mountain of new debt, a balloon of short-term borrowings that come due in the months ahead, and interest rates that are sure to climb back to normal as soon as the Federal Reserve decides that the emergency has passed.

Even as Treasury officials are racing to lock in today’s low rates by exchanging short-term borrowings for long-term bonds, the government faces a payment shock similar to those that sent legions of overstretched homeowners into default on their mortgages.

With the national debt now topping $12 trillion, the White House estimates that the government’s tab for servicing the debt will exceed $700 billion a year in 2019, up from $202 billion this year, even if annual budget deficits shrink drastically. Other forecasters say the figure could be much higher.

take our poll - story continues below

Who would you vote for if the elections were held today?

  • Who would you vote for if the elections were held today?  

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Completing this poll grants you access to The Lid updates free of charge. You may opt out at anytime. You also agree to this site's Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

In concrete terms, an additional $500 billion a year in interest expense would total more than the combined federal budgets this year for education, energy, homeland security and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The potential for rapidly escalating interest payouts is just one of the wrenching challenges facing the United States after decades of living beyond its means.

The White House estimates that the government will have to borrow about $3.5 trillion more over the next three years,and that doesn’t even include the huge amount of short-term debt that was issued during the financial crisis that the Treasury will have to refinance, or roll. Treasury officials estimate that about 36 percent of the government’s marketable debt — about $1.6 trillion — is coming due in the months ahead.

The United States isn’t the only country in a precarious position, for example Dubai collapsed under its own debt just a few weeks ago. It begs the question, is 2010 the year that governments across the world will run out of money?

2010: The year of bankrupt gov’ts  


Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. But he only comes for kids — not for governments that have bragged, borrowed and spent their way into bankruptcy. Two Thousand Ten is going to belong to the Grinch.

For spendthrift governments around the world, the new year’s going to bring massive defaults. The new globalization may be the globalization of a second wave of financial crises.

The world economy is not convalescing. It’s just been pumped full of unaffordable medicines. Borrowing madly, countries as diverse as Greece and Dubai have been buying time, not fiscal health.

Built on financial quicksand, Dubai (an Arab Las-Vegas-without-the-fun) is in collapse (predicted by this column years ago). Quasi-governmental corporations backed by the ruling family are at least $80 billion in the hole. The recent transfusion of 10 billion bucks from Abu Dhabi merely applied a Band-Aid to a hemorrhage. Dubai can’t pay.

Eighty billion in bad debts may not sound high in President Obama’s Washington, but Dubai’s just a city pretending to be a country. It produces nothing. There’s no inherent wealth. It Madoff-ed the world with extravagant brochures and nutty projects.

Speculators went nuts, proclaiming Dubai the city of the future, where wealth could only beget more wealth. The frenzy produced the craziest real-estate bubble in the world, as gullible investors mistook a couple of shopping malls for a civilization.

Dubai’s approach to development mirrored that of much of the Arab world, expecting money to do all of the work. But Dubai’s ambitions weren’t backed by oil wealth, only vast development schemes that never should have fooled a single investor. But investors wanted to be fooled.

Speculation hasn’t been the only villain generating financial ruin around the world. Another villain has been exploding entitlements. Several European states (plus my favorite foreign country, California) have been downed by a self-inflicted one-two punch.

In Ireland and Spain, housing bubbles created the illusion of roaring economies — and pandering governments inflated already generous social programs. In Italy and Greece, state giveaways, bubble economies and rabid corruption created national debts in excess of GDP.

Even in this age of globalization and complex financial instruments, one law of the financial jungle remains brutally true: The bills come due eventually.

Dubai’s bankrupt, but frightened investors pretend otherwise. Greece is bankrupt, and the other Euro-currency states don’t know what to do: The strict fiscal-policy rules for the Euro-zone are crumbling.

Will EU governments — each with its own problems — cobble together a rescue package? Greece’s socialist government certainly isn’t going to embrace painful austerity measures — and the population, conditioned to an entitlement mentality, would tear Athens apart.

And after Greece, what about Spain? With 20 percent unemployment and an economy strangled by disincentives to job creation, Spain counts on being considered too big to fail.

The Baltic states’ economies are tubercular. Central Europe’s headed for the post-modern equivalent of debtors’ prison. And even Britain (and the global bankers’ fortress, the City of London) is still in deep treacle.

Then there’s California (and New York).

Taken in isolation, any of these problems could be managed. But these “local” crises refuse to be isolated. Toss in suspect statistics from other troubled states and hollow economies from Argentina to Russia, and 2010 looks unpredictable, to put it gently.

Perhaps the world’s financial wizards will head off this looming debacle, too — but don’t count on it. Chain reactions could devastate European banks and budgets .

The good news? Venezuela’s also in serious economic trouble. The bad news? Venezuela’s also in serious economic trouble.

Then there are the great unknowns, a Russian economy that may be far more fragile than anyone wants to admit, as well as China, opaque and insatiable.

One of the reasons China’s desperate to keep expanding its trade is that its banking sector is flimsier than chopsticks — plagued by uncollectible sweetheart loans made to favored firms and institutions. Perhaps Beijing will dominate the 21st century. But it’s also possible that China’s economy will turn out to be the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.

The best scenario we could see in the global economy in 2010? Rescue-package fire brigades rushing to deal with these crises individually. What’s the worst? A chain reaction that leads to a rash of national defaults, followed by a world banking and liquidity crisis, Part II.

What of our own country, with its soaring debt, congressional irresponsibility and an administration whose No. 1 priority is expanding unaffordable entitlement programs? Draw your own conclusions.