A closed sign hangs at the entrance to the U.S. Treasury building in Washington D.C. on Oct. 3, 2013. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew has said the government will have only $30 billion of cash left by Oct. 17 to meet its commitments. Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg
(Bloomberg.com) Anyone who remembers the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. little more than five years ago knows what a global financial disaster is. A U.S. government default, just weeks away if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling as it now threatens to do, will be an economic calamity like none the world has ever seen.
Failure by the world’s largest borrower to pay its debt — unprecedented in modern history — will devastate stock markets from Brazil to Zurich, halt a $5 trillion lending mechanism for investors who rely on Treasuries, blow up borrowing costs for billions of people and companies, ravage the dollar and throw the U.S. and world economies into a recession that probably would become a depression. Among the dozens of money managers, economists, bankers, traders and former government officials interviewed for this story, few view a U.S. default as anything but a financial apocalypse.
The $12 trillion of outstanding government debt is 23 times the $517 billion Lehman owed when it filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 15, 2008. As politicians butt heads over raising the debt ceiling, executives from Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s Warren Buffett to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Lloyd C. Blankfein have warned that going over the edge would be catastrophic.
Did you know that U.S. banks have more than 1.8 trillion dollars parked at the Federal Reserve and that the Fed is actually paying them not to lend that money to us? We were always told that the goal of quantitative easing was to “help the economy”, but the truth is that the vast majority of the money that the Fed has created through quantitative easing has not even gotten into the system. Instead, most of it is sitting at the Fed slowly earning interest for the bankers. Back in October 2008, just as the last financial crisis was starting, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke announced that the Federal Reserve would start paying interest on the reserves that banks keep at the Fed. This caused an absolute explosion in the size of these reserves. Back in 2008, U.S. banks had less than 2 billion dollars of excess reserves parked at the Fed. Today, they have more than 1.8 trillion. In less than five years, the pile of excess reserves has gotten nearly 1,000 times larger. This is utter insanity, and it will have very serious consequences down the road.