Long-Term Debt Should Be Longer

 | Mar 07, 2012 | 10:03 AM EST  | Comments
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President Obama said in a press conference Tuesday that Congress should pass a law to make it possible for responsible homeowners to refinance at historically low rates, How about telling the Treasury to refinance the debt of the United States to take advantage of historically low interest rates? 

We have a debt of more than $15 trillion and growing. The average maturity of our debt now is about 60 months. Considering how much debt we are adding each year from deficit financing, it makes no sense at all to be so concerned about homeowners getting super-low, 30-year fixed-rate mortgages while totally ignoring our country's very-short-term debt load. Mexico and several other countries have issued 100-year and 50-year bonds. Some corporations have done the same. We have not done any of this.

In addition, people and corporations are hiding in very-short-term USG paper and if the Treasury reduced the issuance of very-short-term paper and instead issued very-long-term paper in large quantities, it would likely push people to invest the money in non-government debt or put a lot for the money into longer-term government debt. In either case, this would be good for the country. 

Congress never brings this issue up with Ben Bernanke when he testifies, or for that matter with Secretary Geithner. Apparently Rush Limbaugh is much more important than our national debt.

Maybe you and Secretary Geithner are confident that the U.S. dollar will always be the world's only reserve currency and we will be able to finance our debt at very low rates forever. I think that so far we have been very lucky that the ECB has been so inept in running the euro so that the dollar is the go-to currency when the market cries out "risk off." One day when our debt is $20 trillion dollars and we are still running deficits and an alternative currency to the dollar appears on the scene we will be in big trouble and the Fed will not be able to contain a big rise in our interest rates.

To save a few dollars in financing costs today and or over a 30- to 100-year period with a debt like ours with an average maturity of around five years is very irresponsible. I urge Obama to tell the Treasury Secretary to act and to sell a lot of long-term debt to bring our average debt maturities to at least 15 years.

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