Original source: SimoleonSense.com .
Latest piece by Surowiecki in The New Yorker
Excerpts (via The New Yorker)
It’s not an outlandish question. Besides great climates and lovely beaches, California and Greece share a fondness for dysfunctional politics and feckless budgeting. While American states are typically required to balance their budgets annually, that hasn’t stopped them from amassing a pile of long-term debt by issuing municipal bonds. And, like Greece and other E.U. countries, states have used accounting legerdemain to under-report the amount they owe, even while accumulating huge, unfunded pension obligations. Just as a default by Greece (whose bonds are held by many big European banks) would have nasty ripple effects across the European economy, a state-government default would have all sorts of unpleasant consequences, as state bonds have traditionally been considered a thoroughly safe investment.
All this aid comes at a price, of course: it increases moral hazard, and it increases the national deficit. But the federal government is able to borrow money at exceptionally cheap rates, and, at a time like this, when the economy is still trying to find its feet, forcing states to cancel building projects and furlough teachers and policemen makes little economic sense. (Indeed, there’s a strong case to be made that more of the original stimulus package should have gone to state aid.) The European model would do more harm than good, as American history shows: in the early eighteen-forties, after the bursting of a credit bubble, many states found themselves in a debt crisis.
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