All of the major industrialized countries have lived beyond their means for decades… The United States, in particular, paid for its prosperity on credit… Things couldn’t possibly go well forever and, indeed, the financial crisis put an end to the days of unfettered spending… In March, the rating agencies Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s warned that even the US’s perfect triple-A rating could be jeopardized if the country’s financial situation didn’t change drastically soon. The third main rating agency, Fitch, had already issued a warning in January. So far, none of the three agencies has announced an actual downgrade of the country’s credit rating. Economists suspect, however, that the fear of the incalculable consequences for the economy might have prevented them from doing so.
So the ratings agencies are lying again. Great.
At any rate, experts like Harvard economic historian Niall Ferguson warn that confidence in the United States could be lost at some point, and that this could come as a complete surprise, with a single piece of bad news serving as a spark and potentially triggering a global conflagration. The “alarm bells should be ringing loudly” in the United States, says Ferguson. He points out that historically, large empires like the Roman Empire and the Chinese Ming dynasty also fell into decline because they had overextended themselves economically.
By studying financial crises over the centuries, US economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart have calculated an average value at which the debt burden starts to become critical for a country: 90 percent of GDP. Above that level, economies achieve only half as much growth as those that are not as heavily indebted. This key indicator is currently at about 84 percent in the United States, but in two years the Americans are expected to surpass the 100-percent mark.