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The great debt myth

Written By: - Date published: 12:02 pm, May 31st, 2011 - 55 comments
Categories: debt / deficit, economy, Economy, national, uncategorized - Tags:

This government’s got a real talent for manufacturing crisis to suit them.  The debt disaster is a classic – in order to get out of debt we have to cut public spending to the tune of almost $1billion and sell assets.

Far from being in the same government debt league as the PIGS countires; Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal, New Zealand’s government debt is actually third or fourth lowest in the OECD.  Where we do have a serious problem is in private debt with mortages and business loans (mainly owed to Australian banks). And cutting public services will do absolutely nothing to help fix private debt – except maybe to make it worse by laying off public sector workers  and making services more expensives.

The government’s also overplaying that $300m -$380m that they’re borrowing each week. CTU economist Bill Rosenberg says that the number is inflated by looking at one year only, when borrowing requirements are near their peak and Treasury is borrowing much more than it needs because lenders are lining up to lend at attractive interest rates.  He reckons it would be fairer to look ahead over four years when the average new borrowing requirements will be less that half that.

However, the public has swallowed the line that government accounts are just like households ie debt and borrowing BAD so it’s unlikely these particular myths are going to be busted anytime soon.

Source: Statistics NZ – International Investment Position

55 comments on “The great debt myth”

  1. For those of you who want to know more about John Key and his banking buddies and how money is created and why if you read the above the only conclusion has to be that John Key is knowingly scamming the good Kiwi people these are some video’s you might want to watch:
    Money as debt I and II and the Money Masters
     

  2. Lanthanide 2

    What happened in 1989-1990 that caused such a massive up-tick in private debt?

    New banking/lending regulations allowing for financing of consumer goods? Recession?

    • Deregulation (Alan Greenspan was instrumental) and the newly decriminalised derivatives trade took of. This book points to Andrew Krieger as patient Zero in this trade. The attack on the New Zealand dollar in October 1987 was the Zero point in this trade now collapsing our financial system. The trader who helped him with that attack was John Key.
       
       

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    Whats at fault? Asset price speculation fueled by excessive lending of cheap borrowed money by banks seeking higher and higher earnings for their shareholders. The fix is relatively simple – fundamental asset and debt reform to make speculative leverage on assets wholly unattractive.

    • thatguynz 3.1

      Or even a significant (read massive) reduction in the leverage able to be applied for fractional lending. Bringing the leverage metric down to 1:5 (or even the original 1:10) against reserves would have short term pain but could knock the personal debt issue on its head very smartly :)

      Finding a government that would do that however is an uphill battle when it flies in the face of the ideology that they’re hell bent on perpetuating..

    • johnm 3.2

      Yes CV
      And our Young People have been done out of the dream of buying their own home by all the GREEDIES supported by Labour and the Nats buying property after property and renting them out to the same young wage slaves who pay off the mortgages for the GREEDIES who then cash in on the tax breaks and the CAPITAL GAIN. This whole bubble is the opposite of a short: a buy run where the GREEDIES have bid property up and up and cashed in on the backs of our young starter workers. This greed boom fuelled by cheap money from the banks who cash in as well on the backs of workers with their return of interest on capital. The Politicians are in on this RORT big time as well! The same Politicians refuse to levy a Capital Gains Tax. No wonder so many of our young people have emigrated in DISGUST.

  4. queenstfarmer 4

    I don’t think the people haven’t “fallen for” anything. I think they have recognised that a country can’t keep borrowing without consequence (publicly or privately), and that NZ can’t borrow like bigger, wealthier countries can.

    If I’m wrong, then I look forward to seeing which parties campaign on increasing the public debt!

    • todd 4.1

      However the fix proposed by National is to see SOEs sold whereby private interests can invest in a very lucrative commodity at the public’s expense. This is effectively wealth redistribution to help private sector debt, so in a way John Key is telling the truth.

      Selling our SOEs will reduce private sector debt… This will cost the public in more expensive power bills and will do little to nothing to curb the Governments borrowing. In a few years when the capital has been used up, New Zealand will in fact have to borrow more to cover the shortfall. So National is campaigning to increase public debt, they just aren’t telling you.

      It should also be noted that this proposal comes at a time when reliance on electricity is set to grow dramatically. The public will miss out on this bonanza under National’s proposals.

      • queenstfarmer 4.1.1

        How do you get “wealth redistribution” and “reducing private debt” from this?

        Selling any asset, in part or in full, does not “redistribute wealth”, unless it is sold for under value (like when Goff & co sold Telecom). It simply swaps one asset for another.

        And in the meantime, the Govt continues to borrow money offshore, which simply results in ever-increasing interest payments being sent to overseas investors, straight from the taxpayer’s pockets.

        • McFlock 4.1.1.1

          It swaps a cow for magic beans that will somehow make the cow bigger and stronger and everyone better off, the bean-seller swears it is so.

          But you still have to buy milk produced by the cow you originally owned.
           

        • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1.2

          It simply swaps one asset for another.

          Wow, you really are that simple. No one would buy the asset if it didn’t return more than what they paid. Of course, this does point out the stupidity of selling it as that means that the person or state selling it must get less than what the asset is worth.

          • queenstfarmer 4.1.1.2.1

            You really need to read a Form 3 (year whatever) book on basic economics. Or go into the real world and see this wonderful thing called “the market” in action. Otara Flea Market on the weekend is great.

            On your theory, no-one would ever sell anything unless forced! You’d never sell your house because (to use your words) “the person selling it must get less than what the asset is worth”. And who is forcing all these “bad deals” upon sellers? And why do we have this wonderous thing called shopping, trading, businesses for sale, etc? All the “sellers” in these markets are somehow being forced to sell for less than *they think* the asset is worth, right?

            Then once you get past the basics, you might want to move on to more advanced concepts like risk vs return and cost of money, which will magically “explain” your bewilderment over why anyone sells anything (“the person selling it must get less than what the asset is worth”… ha!!)

            • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1.2.1.1

              All the “sellers” in these markets are somehow being forced to sell for less than *they think* the asset is worth, right?

              My brother-in-law is presently thinking of selling his car yards. Why? Because he’s bored with selling fucken cars. He will, as a matter of fact, sell them for less than they’re worth because, get this, their potential income far exceeds what he’ll sell them for but he won’t be forced in any way, shape or form.

              We will be forced into selling the state assets (If NACT are re-elected) because we don’t have a direct say in it. If NACT could sell them before the election they would. The time line for selling them in February is already friggen tight though and they know that if they sold them now there’s no way they’d get back in.

              As for the “market”? Well, yeah.

              I passed the basics a long time ago. I’m now well into thinking about economic systems that actually work.

        • todd 4.1.1.3

          queenstfarmer

          Selling any asset, in part or in full, does not “redistribute wealth”, unless it is sold for under value (like when Goff & co sold Telecom). It simply swaps one asset for another.

          Selling shares to people who can afford them redistributes wealth in that the returns end up in wealthy peoples hands. There are no provisions to ensure the shares remain in New Zealander’s hands. Income from SOEs would normally have been reinvested into social infrastructure. Having this income going to the public coffers kept costs relatively low in comparison to what we can expect under privatisation.

          Shareholders will demand a return and costs will rise at the expense of the poor who can ill afford further increases to their expenditure. That is the very essence of this con… National’s rich mates will invest heavily in any privatised SOEs knowing that National will ensure a high return and reap the reward at the expense of the public. History has shown that it is at the expense of privatised entities as well.

          That’s only if they win the next election though. Basically if you have no morals and lots of spare cash to invest, vote for National’s plans to con the general public. If you don’t want your power bills to rise, vote for another political party.

          • queenstfarmer 4.1.1.3.1

            Shareholders will demand a return and costs will rise at the expense of the poor who can ill afford further increases to their expenditure.

            You make it sound like increasing profits is as simple as turning up a dial.

            But for monopolies, that is pretty much the case (think Telecom – undersold by Labour in the 80s, disgracefully handled by National in the 90s). So for monopolies, I’d agree. No Govt should allow a monopoly to be sold off again. And a strong regulator is a must, or even a state player such as Kiwibank where appropriate.

            • Draco T Bastard 4.1.1.3.1.1

              You make it sound like increasing profits is as simple as turning up a dial.

              In the case of a monopoly, and power is a monopoly, it is.

  5. Tom Gould 5

    The only thing “the public has swallowed” are the lies spread by an unquestioning and increasingly politically biased news media. Not many folks read treasury papers, they tend to read newspapers and watch TV news instead. So lay off blaming the public for believing that nice smiling Mr. Key and those nice media people.

  6. Tammy Gordon 6

    Fair point Tom, I don’t mean to blame the public, same as I don’t blame them for voting National in 2008 when we were promised all the stuff that Labour did that people liked (Working for Families, interest free student loans and KiwiSaver), a tax cut ‘north’ of $50 a week and smiling John instead of increasingly grim Aunty Helen and the nanny state. Now it turns out we’ve exchanged the nanny state for one of callous indifference.

    • Campbell Larsen 6.1

      Ironic is it not that Labour was accused of being the nanny sate, but it’s National, and Dr “I’ll take that baby” Brash and his side kick mean bitch Bennett who want to take babies and children away from their mothers simply because they are poor and have no jobs, and place them in the dubious care of soon to be restructured ‘child care’ centres.

      Who’s the Nanny now?

  7. Cadwallader 7

    I truly wish the debt was a myth as you assert.

    • ron 7.1

      @Cadwalleder
      Tammy has provided an argument and facts to back that argument. Your’s is…….?

    • Draco T Bastard 7.2

      The debt exists as the chart shows. It’s just not government debt and so the government doesn’t need to cut or sell anything to get the debt down. It’s the last bit that NAct are selling that is the myth.

  8. tsmithfield 8

    “Far from being in the same government debt league as the PIGS countires; Iceland, Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal, New Zealand’s government debt is actually third or fourth lowest in the OECD. Where we do have a serious problem is in private debt with mortages and business loans (mainly owed to Australian banks).”

    It is a false dichotomy to draw a distinction between government and private debt, as this article, and others I have seen on “the Standard” have done.. Government debt in fact is ultimately a liability for tax payers. The ability of tax payers to fund government debt will be affected by the amount of private debt they have. So, in the end they all lump into the same thing: money owed by the country. Which ever way it is looked at, we have too much overall debt.

    • Lanthanide 8.1

      ” The ability of tax payers to fund government debt will be affected by the amount of private debt they have.”

      Um, the government debt isn’t funded by tax payers. That’s the whole point – the government didn’t raise sufficient revenue from taxpayers and has to get the money from somewhere else, foreigners in this case.

      • tsmithfield 8.1.1

        Still, even if the deficit is funded through debt, then it is still a long-term liability for tax payers that has to be repaid at some point. Given that taxpayers have a lot of their own debt, it follows that the government needs to limit the amount of debt it incurs on behalf of tax payers because it is tax payers who ultimately must fund both their private debt and the government debt incurred on their behalf.

        • ZeeBop 8.1.1.1

          Not all farmers are like crafer, not all mortgagees are likely to default. The private debt problem is easily solved, let a few more homes, and farms default, that’ll teach foreigners to lend to unsafe NZ. Government should buy the farms and homes, build up its state housing, and farm land assets until good times return. Who lost? Well young first time home buyers and farm workers who wanted to buy a farm themselves. Strange how National want to harm the farming and urban community, and keep private debt up.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.2

      Wow, TS just promoted “communism”. Of course, it’s the warped communism of the capitalists that gets everybody else to pay the capitalists debts.

  9. JaJ 9

    You know what will help with private sector debt? Reigning in consumption – i.e. through rebalancing the taxation system to tax consumption more heavily. Note that this need not be at the expense of the poor.

    • Lanthanide 9.1

      Raising GST won’t do much. Most of this private debt is tied up in mortgages on land and property. What’s needed is a structural change, such as a land tax and/or CGT.

      • ron 9.1.1

        …and the Tobin Tax.

      • PeteG 9.1.2

        Proportional to total debt it looks relatively low but credit card debt has climbed quickly and it is high interest debt – poor people often get caught in a debt treadmill with credit cards. Most “richer” people pay off their credit cards fully so pay no interest and have no ongoing debt. They are a poor person’s curse.

        http://www.interest.co.nz/charts/credit/credit-card-debt

        • RobC 9.1.2.1

          Fuck, do you even know how to read graphs?

          Credit card debt has not “climbed quickly” – it averaged around 8% in the period 2003-8 before dropping like a lead balloon. Compare that to housing credit or rural credit which had growth rates far in excess of 8% during the same period.

      • JaJ 9.1.3

        Raising GST however ought to increase the rate of saving.

        I agree with you though, a tax is needed on property. I would like to see a stamp duty on land and fixed assest transaction rather than a capital gains tax (cheaper and easier to administer).

        • Draco T Bastard 9.1.3.1

          Raising GST however ought to increase the rate of saving.

          It’s failed to do so any time in the last 20 years so what makes you think it’ll work now?

        • Luxated 9.1.3.2

          Raising GST however ought to increase the rate of saving.

          Only if the majority of spending is discretionary. If you spend most of your money on food, housing, utilities and essential transport then you can hardly cut back and save more.

          Actually thinking about it, has anyone actually done a study to see if sales tax changes spending habits at all? Or do people just fork over the extra money whether or not they can afford it i.e. credit cards?

          • Draco T Bastard 9.1.3.2.1

            Not GST specifically as it was US centred but there was a study done on savings incentives over the last 30 years and showed that all of them had produced absolutely no extra saving. Can’t remember where I actually saw the article though. Which takes us back to my question @4:43pm.

  10. tsmithfield 10

    “I agree with you though, a tax is needed on property.”

    Good luck getting voted in on that.

  11. Nick C 11

    Notice how private debt grew quite sharply between about 2005 and 2008? I think one explanation is that fiscal drag created by high inflation meant that real tax rates grew quite sharply. This would also explain why government debt actually continued to fall during that period despite government spending growing substantially after 2005.

    So one solution to this problem would be a straight transfer of wealth from the state to individuals. The obvious way to do that: more tax cuts.

    • Draco T Bastard 11.1

      Or, more likely, the government debt went down while increasing needed government services because of competent management. Remember, the opposition, your friends in NAct, were calling for tax cuts right from the word go. If they’d been in power the governments debt would have ballooned, as it did in the US under GWBush, government services would have atrophied even more and, when the GFC hit, we would have been royally screwed.

    • RobC 11.2

      Notice how the graph is debt as a percentage of GDP?

      You must be under 40 (and not from Zimbabwe) cause you have NFI what “high inflation” is. Hint: It’s not 5%.

    • stargazer 11.3

      yeah, that was the time that banks & real estate agents were going around the country, aggressively marketing rental properties as an investment to the middle classes. they used the argument that the losses would reduce income tax & there would be non-taxable capital gains. banks were aggressively pushing people to buy fully-geared properties. this was about the time finsec were publicly pushing banks to stop pressuring staff to do this via the remuneration packages that were in place.

      in the 2012 year, we’re going to see the effects of depreciation claims on buildings being removed. i suspect that’s going to hit the property market reasonably hard & leave a lot more middle-class people struggling.

  12. RedandBlack 12

    If Treasury and the OECD recommend a Capital Gains tax for NZ that should be enough for a government. Australia has a CGT and it also has a higher rate on $100,000 pa. The NZ rich and famous who refuse to pay tax can go to the US – we don’t need them here. We will be better off without them.

    • nadis 12.1

      US has a capital gains tax………

      • RedLogix 12.1.1

        Yes but also allows all mortgage interest (including that on the family home) to be tax deductable.

        Comparing tax regimes is a complex business; it’s hard to make an argument to stand or fall on one single aspect alone.

        Overall however NZ is not a highly taxed country.

        • nadis 12.1.1.1

          thats true – and a way more complicated tax code in general with all manner of obscure deductions allowed

          • ZeeBop 12.1.1.1.1

            A CGT would bring us into line with the rest of the world. Why we haven’t got one should be discussed because any benefit of not taxing profit would become clear, ooops, oh we know that already, our bubbles when they happen are much more rapacious and destructive, did you know we have huge private debt problem because of capital farming. Farmers ‘defending’ their position by taking out borrowing to buy more farm land, move to bigger farms and so keeping up farm prices and stopping young farmers getting into farming. Home owners buying the same size homes for more, stopping young first time home buyers getting on the ladder. There are large numbers of young people in paid work who rent and waste their cash buying petrol to hoon rather than pay mortgages. Not having a CGT is disproportionate, but yes if we had been more in line with the rest of the world our debt would have looked more like that of Australia, still a boom in housing
            but our economy would have been more diverse and strong, not carrying farming in good times
            (high commodity prices), and being carried by farming in bad times (when the world doesn’t want milk for their kids, when does that ever happen).
            Sorry but its stupid to fund farming to the detriment of the rest of the economy, we should be pigging backing off farming profits to build a wider deeper economy, and why would farmers want that? Simple they will be carried when people do stop buying milk globally, remember they said Japan nuke reactors were safe now three of them have melted down. Never say never.
            People said the world would always buy wool, or lamb.
            In the future we will have the low energy high tech companies will want to run their cloud, or send their workers to for six months during a dismal northern winter (more like that with climate change). Its stands to reason that we need a better fair balance, and I believe the government will be a wash with huge tax windfalls as a result. We don’t need to be scrapping to put kids into pre-school, we are a very rich nation run badly because of shortsightedness greed. A generous nation would have no problem taxing capital gains, and taking GST off food, books and baby goods. Just bring us into line with Australia and maybe a bit simpler and we’re be right.

  13. Descendant Of Smith 13

    Regardless of any financial global crisis NZ was always going to be in trouble as the baby boomers retired:

    1. Not enough provision made for their NZS payments
    2. Over speculation in property which will all come on the market at once = the one they live in and their rentals
    3. An economy made buoyant by their no mortgage, no kids, two income life style
    4. Health care costs

    What was known and has been known for years is that these people would turn 65 from 2010 onwards – an unmovable, unchangeable, fixed point in time.

    Consequences are clearly –

    1. More money needed for NZS or a reduction in entitlements
    2. Lots of jobs as they retire / become unwell
    3. Lots more jobs as they need care
    4. Lots of 3 bedroom houses on the market as they die off and sell
    5. Greater need for public transport as they lose their licenses

    The number of unemployed will take care of themselves over this time – if we invest in training and up-skilling – bashing people on benefit and cutting training programs is exactly the wrong way to go.

    halfwits – halfwits – halfwits

    • ZeeBop 13.1

      Consequences are clearly –

      1. More money needed for NZS or a reduction in entitlements
      2. Lots of jobs as they retire / become unwell
      3. Lots more jobs as they need care
      4. Lots of 3 bedroom houses on the market as they die off and sell
      5. Greater need for public transport as they lose their licenses

      Three bedroom homes within cycle distance of work and play
      will be worth much more, with oil prices and people who want
      to get ahead, those living there will ditch the guzzler to reap
      the benefits of location. Its not happened yet because of the
      mismatched building sector, building cheap nasty sprawl paid
      for by rate payers to have fine new roads and pipes put into
      former farmland. Inner city is dead at night, even the evenings
      because council decided that all the small apartments are to be
      scarce and so drive up their price. Personally young people
      need to move away from their family home to an inner
      city, no car, socially rich, to make the connections, make
      the discoveries about who and what they want, and an inner
      city experience would do that. So I’m shocked at how little
      there is for young couples to buy in town, the stepping stone
      to a three bedroom home. Young people need government
      to help create stepping stones into home ownership and
      not just throw money (first home buyer) at them.
      Young people, Y and X don’t care about retirement, they know
      as the boomers retire and die that care home places will be
      cheap, finding zimmerframes will not be a problem, drugs
      will be off patent, generic. Jobs will will be freed up as
      boomers retire. So National is just harming the future economy
      by pushing young kiwis to leave. But as a society we don’t
      yet see the reward for giving up the car that will drive the
      move to more choice in housing and better use of cycle
      catchments.

  14. Labour should push this graph and a catch phrase of “Ever Had The Feeling You’ve Been Had New Zealand”:. This utter lie is now exposed – and this ‘debt’ is the ’cause’ for national slashing public services and selling state assets.

  15. nadis 15

    The reason for the increase in private debt is in mostly due to this. Real wages from 2000 to 2008 were actually negative (they are probably negative from 2008 to, so don’t jump up and down and accuse me of being political, I just haven’t got the data for 2009 onwards), but asset prices (private housing stock in particular) grew dramatically due to ridiculous tax preferences and resource planning issues. Households monetized their increased house equity and spent it on a lifestyle their incomes were insufficient to maintain.

    Living on borrowed money is unsustainable, so that, with many other factors gave us the GFC (but remember NZ was already in recession well before the global slow down because of our private debt/lack of real income growth problem.

    The governments fiscal policy is driven by a primary goal – keeping official net debt below 30% (treasury predicts it will peak at 29.6%). 30% is the “safe” level for avoiding ratings agency downgrades. The rationale is to keep interest rates low. Your average mortgage payer is probably $180 a week better of now than they were when National got elected. That’s a way more important effect on individual household incomes than tax cuts etc.

    • MrSmith 15.1

      So your saying that even though our house is burning to the ground, at-least we won’t be cold in the mean time, and we should all look on the bright side, because we will be able to have a BBQ with the embers!

      • nadis 15.1.1

        ???

        explanation welcomed Mr Smith……

        • MrSmith 15.1.1.1

          I think it’s called irony nadis.
           
          You seem to be singing from the National party hymn/spin sheet and it has gone something like this.
           
          Firstly we where going to be roaring out of the recession .
           
          Then we where going to be catching Aust.
           
          Next it was the export lead recovery.
           
          Then it was the saving based recovery (they just cut kiwi saver).
           
          Then it was pointed out that we weren’t catching Aust , so we now had a competitive advantage.
           
          Now that all this has failed we should be grateful that interest are low.
           
          My point is that’s a lot of dead fish to swallow nadis.
           

    • RobC 15.2

      A couple of points nadis:

      Housing prices were also driven by a shortage in supply and migration.

      Your average mortgage payer is certainly better off, but (a) only ~66% of us are house-owners (b) the current low interest rates are temporary.

  16. nadis 16

    no – all i was saying was that your ironic statement was way too obtuse to make sense.

    And I wouldnt call myself a Nat apologist – reality is I dont see any difference between Nats and Labour and the last 3 years would have been very similar under either party given the undelrying trends and imbalances that got us to recession well before the GFC hit. Nor I am an Act supporter – if they ditched the SST baggage and were truly Libertarian I might support them, but would only like to see them with a strong parliamentary presence without running things if you know what I mean. In the same way I am happy to see Greens and even nutcase socialists in parliament to provide alternative views as long as they are not solely in charge. Leave that to National and Labour (once they clear out the deadwood) to govern from the centre.

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