Problems of Reading Comprehension at Zero Hedge: No One Advocated Default

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Sunday, 10 April 2011 14:59

I don't like to use this blog to settle personal scores, but I think it is important to clear up a serious misrepresentation that stemmed from an earlier post. Zero Hedge has me advocating default on the national debt because I had the audacity to point out that the world will not end if the U.S. defaults on its debt.

It did not occur to me that anyone could think that saying "the world will not end if we do X," is the same as saying "we should do X," but apparently the folks at Zero Hedge cannot see the distinction. Let me try to clarify. Defaulting on the national debt is very bad policy. It would lead to a financial crisis, as I said in my prior post. This would lead to a severe downturn in the economy and a big jump in the unemployment rate.

However the economy would eventually recover. The underlying factors that determine the country's wealth -- the physical stock of capital, the skills of the workforce, the state of technical knowledge -- will still be there following a default.

For this reason I would consider some policies worse than default. Representative Ryan's plan for ending Medicare as we know it would fit this bill. It would mean that people who spent their entire life working could not count on decent health care in their old age.

In my view, if the Republicans say "end Medicare or default," then the correct response for President Obama is "I'll see you after the crash." My guess is that in this scenario we don't get a default. Rather we get Jamie Dimon screaming his lungs out at the Republican leadership, and we get the Republicans running to compromise with their tails between their legs.

But, this assessment could be wrong. Still, in my view there has to be a bottom line. I draw the line before the elimination of Medicare.

I'm afraid that I don't really understand the opposite position. Is it the view of Zero Hedge that nothing is worse than defaulting on the national debt? If Speaker Boehner wants to bring back slavery as a condition of raising the debt ceiling should President Obama sign the bill? (We'll worry about the 13th amendment later.) If they agree that bringing back slavery is worse than defaulting on the national debt then is Zero Hedge also an advocate of default? 

If we want to have a serious argument on this issue it is going to have to be based on what I actually said, not positions that Zero Hedge has invented for me.