Tag Archives: S&P

You Get What You Pay For

By Simon Johnson

Standard & Poor’s downgrade of United States government debt last month has been much debated, but not enough attention has been devoted to the fact, reported last week by Bloomberg News, that it continues to rate securities based on subprime mortgages as AAA.

In short, S.&P. is suggesting that these mortgages are more creditworthy than the United States government – a striking proposition. Leave aside for a moment that S.&P. made a big mistake in its analysis of the federal budget (as explained by James Kwak recently in this blog). Just focus on all the things that can go wrong with subprime mortgages – housing prices can fall, people can lose jobs, the economy may fall into recession and so on.

Now weigh those risks against the possibility that the United States government will default. As we learned this summer, that is not a zero-probability event – but it would take either an act of Congress, in the sense of passing legislation, or a determination by members of Congress that they could not act. S.&P. finds this more likely to happen than some subprime mortgages going bad. Continue reading

How Big Is the Deficit, Anyway?

By James Kwak

According to its CBO score, the Budget Control Act of 2011 (a.k.a. the debt ceiling agreement) initially reduced aggregate budget deficits over the next ten years (2012–2021) by $917 billion, with a provision that ensures that deficits will be reduced by another $1.2 trillion (either through an agreement in the joint committee that is ratified by Congress, or through automatic spending cuts). The chatter in Washington is that even with the $1.2 trillion, this is still too small, and there is still this massive deficit hanging over our heads. This is true to an extent, but not the way you are being led to believe.

The first question is this: How big is the deficit anyway? The answer is pretty complicated—complicated enough for S&P to mess up (although in my opinion they made a rookie mistake, as I’ll explain later). Warning: lots of numbers ahead, though the only math is addition and subtraction.

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