Sovereign Debt Jubilee, Japanese-Style

Japan has found a way to write off nearly half its national debt without creating inflation. We could do that too.

Let’s face it. There is no way the US government is ever going to pay back a $20 trillion federal debt. The taxpayers will just continue to pay interest on it, year after year.

A lot of interest.

If the Federal Reserve raises the fed funds rate to 3.5% and sells its federal securities into the market, as it is proposing to do, by 2026 the projected tab will be $830 billion annually. That’s nearly $1 trillion owed by the taxpayers every year, just for interest.

Personal income taxes are at record highs, ringing in at $550 billion in the first four months of fiscal year 2017, or $1.6 trillion annually. But even at those high levels, handing over $830 billion to bondholders will wipe out over half the annual personal income tax take. Yet what is the alternative?

Japan seems to have found one. While the US government is busy driving up its “sovereign” debt and the interest owed on it, Japan has been canceling its debt at the rate of $720 billion (¥80tn) per year. How? By selling the debt to its own central bank, which returns the interest to the government. While most central banks have ended their quantitative easing programs and are planning to sell their federal securities, the Bank of Japan continues to aggressively buy its government’s debt. An interest-free debt owed to oneself that is rolled over from year to year is effectively void – a debt “jubilee.” As noted by fund manager Eric Lonergan in a February 2017 article:

The Bank of Japan is in the process of owning most of the outstanding government debt of Japan (it currently owns around 40%). BoJ holdings are part of the consolidated government balance sheet. So its holdings are in fact the accounting equivalent of a debt cancellation. If I buy back my own mortgage, I don’t have a mortgage.

If the Federal Reserve followed the same policy and bought 40% of the US national debt, the Fed would be holding $8 trillion in federal securities, three times its current holdings from its quantitative easing programs.

Eight trillion dollars in money created on a computer screen! Monetarists would be aghast. Surely that would trigger runaway hyperinflation!

But if Japan’s experience is any indication, it wouldn’t. Japan has a record low inflation rate of .02 percent. That’s not 2 percent, the Fed’s target inflation rate, but 1/100th of 2 percent – almost zero. Japan also has an unemployment rate that is at a 22-year low of 2.8%, and the yen was up nearly 6% for the year against the dollar as of April 2017.

Selling the government’s debt to its own central bank has not succeeded in driving up Japanese prices, even though that was the BoJ’s expressed intent. Meanwhile, the economy is doing well. In a February 2017 article in Mother Jones titled “The Enduring Mystery of Japan’s Economy,” Kevin Drum notes that over the past two decades, Japan’s gross domestic product per capita has grown steadily and is up by 20 percent. He writes:

It’s true that Japan has suffered through two decades of low growth . . . . [But] despite its persistently low inflation, Japan’s economy is doing fine. Their GDP per working-age adult is actually higher than ours. So why are they growing so much more slowly than we are? It’s just simple demographics . . . Japan is aging fast. Its working-age population peaked in 1997 and has been declining ever since. Fewer workers means a lower GDP even if those workers are as productive as anyone in the world.

Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist for the World Bank, concurs. In a June 2013 article titled “Japan Is a Model, Not a Cautionary Tale,” he wrote:

Along many dimensions — greater income equality, longer life expectancy, lower unemployment, greater investments in children’s education and health, and even greater productivity relative to the size of the labor force — Japan has done better than the United States.

That is not to say that all is idyllic in Japan. Forty percent of Japanese workers lack secure full-time employment, adequate pensions and health insurance. But the point underscored here is that large-scale digital money-printing by the central bank used to buy back the government’s debt has not inflated prices, the alleged concern preventing other countries from doing it. Quantitative easing simply does not inflate the circulating money supply. In Japan, as in the US, QE is just an asset swap that occurs in the reserve accounts of banks. Government securities are swapped for reserves, which cannot be spent or lent into the consumer economy but can only be lent to other banks or used to buy more government securities.

The Bank of Japan is under heavy pressure to join the other central banks and start tightening the money supply, reversing the “accommodations” made after the 2008 banking crisis. But it is holding firm and is forging ahead with its bond-buying program. Reporting on the Bank of Japan’s policy meeting on June 15, 2017, The Financial Times stated that BoJ Governor Kuroda “refused to be drawn on an exit strategy from easy monetary policy, despite growing pressure from politicians, markets and the local media to set one out. He said the BoJ was still far from its 2 per cent inflation goal and the circumstances of a future exit were too uncertain.”

Rather than unwinding their securities purchases, the other central banks might do well to take a lesson from Japan and cancel their own governments’ debts. We have entered a new century and a new millennium. Ancient civilizations celebrated a changing of the guard with widespread debt cancellation. It is time for a twenty-first century jubilee from the crippling debts of governments, which could then work on generating some debt relief for their citizens.

_________________________

Ellen Brown is an attorney, founder of the Public Banking Institute, a Senior Fellow of the Democracy Collaborative, and author of twelve books including Web of Debt and The Public Bank Solution. She also co-hosts a radio program on PRN.FM called “It’s Our Money.” Her 300+ blog articles are posted at EllenBrown.com. <https://ellenbrown.com/&gt;.

300+ blog articles are posted at EllenBrown.com.

300+ blog articles are posted at EllenBrown.com.

84 Responses

  1. […] Alternatively, the government could fund tuition costs and debtor relief with a form of “QE for the people.” Instead of buying mortgage-backed securities, as in QE1, the Fed could buy SLABS and return the interest to students, making the loans effectively interest-free (as were the $16+ trillion in loans made to the largest banks after the 2008 crisis). QE that targeted the real economy could address many other budget issues as well, including the infrastructure crisis and the federal debt crisis; and this could be done without triggering hyperinflation. See my earlier articles here, here and here. […]

  2. […] Alternatively, the government could fund tuition costs and debtor relief with a form of “QE for the people.” Instead of buying mortgage-backed securities, as in QE1, the Fed could buy SLABS and return the interest to students, making the loans effectively interest-free (as were the $16+ trillion in loans made to the largest banks after the 2008 crisis). QE that targeted the real economy could address many other budget issues as well, including the infrastructure crisis and the federal debt crisis; and this could be done without triggering hyperinflation. See my earlier articles here, here and here. […]

  3. […] Alternatively, the government could fund tuition costs and debtor relief with a form of “QE for the people.” Instead of buying mortgage-backed securities, as in QE1, the Fed could buy SLABS and return the interest to students, making the loans effectively interest-free (as were the $16+ trillion in loans made to the largest banks after the 2008 crisis). QE that targeted the real economy could address many other budget issues as well, including the infrastructure crisis and the federal debt crisis; and this could be done without triggering hyperinflation. See my earlier articles here, here and here. […]

  4. […] Alternatively, the government could fund tuition costs and debtor relief with a form of “QE for the people.” Instead of buying mortgage-backed securities, as in QE1, the Fed could buy SLABS and return the interest to students, making the loans effectively interest-free (as were the $16+ trillion in loans made to the largest banks after the 2008 crisis). QE that targeted the real economy could address many other budget issues as well, including the infrastructure crisis and the federal debt crisis; and this could be done without triggering hyperinflation. See my earlier articles here, here and here. […]

  5. There are two major differences which set the US and Japan apart, and they able Japan to recycle her government debts through central bank, interest free and holding steady. Japan has huge trade surplus and balanced budgets, so the government does not have to live on new additional bonds for spending. But BOJ is powerless to deal with the next global financial crisis after it is fully oaded with bad debts.
    US is just the opposite, we hve huge trade deficits and huge budget deficits. There is not enough tax incomes (thanks to the Trumptaxact) for the government to spend on its huge budget. Thus we need issue MORE new bonds to cover the maturing old bonds, the interests and the increasing spendings. Fed Reserves knows about all these tricks but dares not to take on ANY additional debts, becuase it knows soon the Sheet will hit the fan much bigger than 2008. Our Fed Reserve is trying to prepare for the next much bigger crisis.

    • No, sorry . Macroeconomics doesn’t work this way you describe. Japan, like the USA and Canada,Australia etc. has a central government which is monetary sovereign. That says it spends currency into existence, Fact! It does not sell any bonds to finance itself. It may be forced to auction them off because the governments thinks the deficit spending should be matched by issuing bonds, but it is entirely false to think the government actually needs to spend them.

      Private debts are a problem what with inflated real estate prices, but the Federal Reserves can fix that too should they so desire.

      Budget deficits are not a problem as they balance to zero each fiscal year. They do not become debt. The debt that each deficit pays for is eliminated by the action of paying for it with the deficit spend. DUH!

      Because the infrastructure etc in the USA is in such a parlous state, it shows the deficit is TOO SMALL. Obviously one can over spend, but inflation absorbs much of it today and there is plenty of fiscal space for good spending. A lot of spending does not show up in the official deficit figures. Pensions are one, plus emergencies, plus military black ops, etc etc.

  6. […] doing away with lender operates since the central bank are not able to go bankrupt. It could also deal with the looming dilemma of an unrepayable federal personal debt, and it could make “quantitative easing for the men and women,” which could be made use […]

  7. […] of public banks, eliminating bank runs since the central bank cannot go bankrupt. It could also fix the looming problem of an unrepayable federal debt, and it could generate “quantitative easing for the people,” which could be used to fund […]

  8. […] of public banks, eliminating bank runs since the central bank cannot go bankrupt. It could also fix the looming problem of an unrepayable federal debt, and it could generate “quantitative easing for the people,” which could be used to fund […]

  9. […] of public banks, eliminating bank runs since the central bank cannot go bankrupt. It could also fix the looming problem of an unrepayable federal debt, and it could generate “quantitative easing for the people,” which could be used to fund […]

  10. […] of public banks, eliminating bank runs since the central bank cannot go bankrupt. It could also fix the looming problem of an unrepayable federal debt, and it could generate “quantitative easing for the people,” which could be used to fund […]

  11. […] Central Banks Have Gone Rogue, Putting Us All at Risk – HoweStreet on Sovereign Debt Jubilee, Japanese-Style […]

  12. […] of public banks, eliminating bank runs since the central bank cannot go bankrupt. It could also fix the looming problem of an unrepayable federal debt, and it could generate “quantitative easing for the people,” which could be used to fund […]

  13. […] of public banks, eliminating bank runs since the central bank cannot go bankrupt. It could also fix the looming problem of an unrepayable federal debt, and it could generate “quantitative easing for the people,” which could be used to fund […]

  14. […] operates because the central financial institution are not able to go bankrupt. It could also fix the looming problem of an unrepayable federal personal debt, and it could deliver “quantitative easing for the people,” which could be utilized to […]

  15. […] of public banks, eliminating bank runs since the central bank cannot go bankrupt. It could also fix the looming problem of an unrepayable federal debt, and it could generate “quantitative easing for the people,” which could be used to fund […]

  16. […] of public banks, eliminating bank runs since the central bank cannot go bankrupt. It could also fix the looming problem of an unrepayable federal debt, and it could generate “quantitative easing for the people,” which could be used to fund […]

  17. […] of public banks, eliminating bank runs since the central bank cannot go bankrupt. It could also fix the looming problem of an unrepayable federal debt, and it could generate “quantitative easing for the people,” which could be used to fund […]

  18. […] of public banks, eliminating bank runs since the central bank cannot go bankrupt. It could also fix the looming problem of an unrepayable federal debt, and it could generate “quantitative easing for the people,” which could be used to fund […]

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