August 22, 2008; Page A15
Will the U.S. Treasury repudiate its obligations to its creditors, be they citizens or investors around the world? Most observers would answer "no" without hesitation. But Congress, with the complicity of the White House and the Fed, has arguably embarked on a stealth repudiation.
In his famous treatise, "The Wealth of Nations," Adam Smith noted there had never been a "single instance" of sovereign debts having been repaid once "accumulated to a certain degree." We may have reached Smith's threshold.
The bond markets are certainly not protecting creditors from the risk of what Smith called "pretended payment" through inflation. Nor did they do so until far into the great inflation of the 1970s. Not until late 1977 and into 1978 did the bond market fully incorporate the reality of the debased dollar, by demanding higher long-term interest rates.