THE UPSIDE OF SIX MORE WEEKS OF WINTER
In Pennsylvania, celebrity groundhog Punxsutawney Phil forecast six more weeks of winter. Nobody was happy, except for the guys selling road salt. But Phil is still better off than his counterpart in neighboring New Jersey, Milltown Mel, who ended up dead before he could make any predictions.
They don’t mess around in Jersey.
But if we are to take Phil at his shadow, then we should believe that things are going to stay the same for a little while. It doesn’t feel like that would be so bad in American politics today, given what the alternatives are.
Maybe not if you’re President Biden, who is having a very hard time with inflation and lingering pandemic consequences. It’s never a good sign when economists start talking about the Misery Index again. Also, $30 trillion does seem like a lot of money to owe. It’s true that there is no obvious hard correlation between debt-to-gross-domestic-product ratios and national success. The three best for 2020: Hong Kong, Zimbabwe, and Brunei. The three worst: Japan, Sudan, and Greece.
This is because the debt-to-GDP number does not exist in a vacuum. If the United States did not have the world reserve currency, nine aircraft carrier strike groups, and the ability to end human life as we know it on the planet, our sixth-worst debt rating would look very different. Conversely, nobody in Zimbabwe ever says, “Say what you will about the crushing poverty, our debt burden is fantastic.”
But lugging a national debt of more than 130 percent of the largest economy in the world is not a light lift. And it adds extra context to Biden’s jousting with Vladimir Putin over Ukraine. Given Putin’s domestic political considerations, even if the standoff ends in anticlimax, he has probably already gotten the boost he’s been looking for. Putin’s even got a U.S. senator calling for Biden to meet the Russian strongman’s chief demand. If the U.S. and NATO knuckled under the way Missouri’s Josh Hawley suggests, it would certainly raise further doubts about America’s position in the world and make that huge pile of debt look even more unaffordable.