Looking at a looming default

Updated: Thursday, October 17, 2013
Looking at a looming default story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - We're 10 days along in the partial government shutdown, and if this goes on for another week, our Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew says we, as a country, will no longer be able to pay all of our bills.

What does that mean for our financial security?

Some in Congress say it really wouldn't amount to much. Most economists, on the other hand, say it could spark global economic chaos.

Tonight in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says if he were a betting man, he'd put his money on those who deal in numbers every day.


If I was going to have heart surgery, I’m fairly certain I’d want the guy holding the scalpel to be someone who does nothing but heart surgeries. A guy who could almost do it in his sleep.

And so it is with our government and our economy.

So if I hear Congressman Justin Amash of Grand Rapids—and only Mr. Amash—say, "there's no way we'll default on October 17. We have enough money to make interest payments. The real question is how do we restructure our government so we don't keep hitting the debt ceiling?"

He sounds pragmatic, confident, and unconcerned.

And there are others in congress who say "not to worry;" that if we have to start cherry picking for a while, to choose who we're going to pay and who we're not, so what?

Confident and reassuring.

Setting aside the fact Congress has a constitutional responsibility to pay who we owe—on time—there are whole bushel baskets full of economists who are saying loudly and repeatedly that the impact of default could be calamitous; not just for us, but for the world.

I know there's  a widely-held, cynical assumption that if you ask 20 economists the same question, you may get 20 different answers. And on some matters that may be true.

But this time around they're pretty much shouting with one voice. And they're telling Congress to get its act together.

Since cherry picking seems acceptable for the moment, let me cherry pick a few.

Gerald Epstein is an economist at the University of Massachusetts. "A default," he says, "will make the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy look like a cakewalk."

Everybody knows who Warren Buffett is. He may not be an economist but he gets a free pass because he understands money as few others do. "Default," he said, "would be like a nuclear bomb - too horrible to use."

And there's Tim Bitsberger, a former Treasury official under George W. Bush. "If we miss an interest payment, it would blow Lehman Brothers out of the water."

And this from Bloomberg news—it would be "an economic calamity like none the world has seen."

There is a FOX News economist, Peter Morici, who thinks default would be the best thing that could ever happen to the United States, but his evaluation gets neutered by the sheer weight of the other side.

At stake is the perception the world has of us. That perception has already been scarred a little by the government shutdown.

But U.S. Treasury Bonds are thought of as the world's primary risk-free asset.

That rock-solid confidence, despite our $17 trillion deficit, is what has made the dollar the world's most widely-used currency.

If we fail to make payments on those bonds, the perception of us as the world's richest and most stable country will take a dive, along with anyone willing to buy a little slice of America’s debt.

And its beyond my perception that the right wing of the Republican party would be willing to carry the specter of of default, with all of its dark possibilities, to the brink or beyond because it doesn't like Obamacare.

And if Justin Amash and his friends are so willing to reject the warnings of economists all over the country, maybe they'll listen to two organizations that have long supported conservative politics: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

In letters written a few days ago, both are urging Congress to rise above their differences and do what's right for the country.

Raise the debt limit. And do it now.

I couldn't say it any better myself.

In this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.

Business News

Last Update on November 27, 2015 18:34 GMT


CHICAGO (AP) -- A protest march has begun in Chicago's Magnificent Mile shopping district, with the Rev. Jesse Jackson in the middle of a crowd that's shouting, "What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now!"

Several hundred demonstrators have gathered in the drizzling rain, many with umbrellas and plastic-wrapped signs.

They're protesting the fatal shooting of a black teenager by a white police officer last year. The recent release of a video showing the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald has set off days of largely peaceful protests.

Protesters sought high visibility by taking the demonstrations to the city's main shopping area on what's traditionally one of the year's biggest shopping days.

An association representing hundreds of high-end retailers, hotels and restaurants in the district says it's confident authorities will maintain order for thousands of Black Friday shoppers. The Magnificent Mile Association represents 780 businesses on Chicago's North Michigan Avenue.


UNDATED (AP) -- "Black Friday" may no longer represent an early start on holiday shopping. For some, it may be too late.

One woman in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, says her $200 budget today was the same as last year, but that it didn't buy as much because the best bargains were on Thanksgiving night.

Ashley Walton says the day for bargains is now "Black Thursday." She says she didn't go shopping on Thanksgiving because she was in what she calls a "turkey coma."

A Kmart shopper in Denver this morning had nearly the entire store to herself, and found it "sad." Susan Montoya said it's "no challenge" when no one else is shopping. She says people must have gone out yesterday or be shopping online.

Early numbers aren't out yet on how many shoppers headed to stores on Thanksgiving Day. The National Retail Federation expected about 30 million to shop on Thanksgiving, and 99.7 million on Black Friday.


BERLIN (AP) -- A closely-watched survey shows German consumers are losing confidence amid growing concerns of an economic slump.

The GfK research group said Friday its forward-looking consumer climate index dropped for the fourth month in a row to 9.3 points in December, from 9.4 in November.

GfK says consumers' willingness to buy rose, but that was offset by drops in both their income and economic expectations, partially linked to the growing number of asylum seekers pouring into the country.

Germany is set to receive more than 1 million refugees and other migrants this year and some 40 percent of consumers surveyed told GfK they believed unemployment would soon rise, most of them saying the newcomers would hurt the labor market.

GfK's monthly survey is based on some 2,000 consumer interviews.


BRUSSELS (AP) -- Greece and its creditors are close to sealing a deal on conditions that Athens must respect to obtain the next slice of rescue money.

The country has already received this week approval for a 2 billion euro loan, and is negotiating on more economic measures needed to get another 1 billion euros.

European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Friday the sides have "agreed broadly the second set of milestones."

She said that when the details are ironed out "this of course would unlock the disbursement of the final one billion euros still available."

That would also allow for an important review of Greece's handling of its austerity program, which is required to secure international credit.

Andreeva said the implementation of pension reforms "is a key part of the first review."


GENEVA (AP) -- A Swiss court has convicted in absentia a former employee with international bank HSBC for economic espionage and sentenced him to five years in prison.

Herve Falciani -- seen by some as a crucial whistleblower -- had refused to travel from his native France to appear before the Swiss Federal Tribunal in Bellinzona in proceedings that began in October.

France does not extradite its own citizens and Falciani appears unlikely to serve the sentence.

Falciani was on trial for leaking bank data that led to a worldwide wave of tax evasion probes against prominent clients in France and elsewhere.

He was charged with illegally obtaining data, economic espionage, breach of business confidentiality and breach of bank secrecy while working at a Swiss HSBC subsidiary between 2006 and 2008.


Glitch causes bank customers to see billions in charges

HONOLULU (AP) -- A technical glitch meant some First Hawaiian Bank customers logged on to their accounts to find that they appeared to be billions, or sometimes more than a trillion dollars in the red.

KHON-TV reports that bank officials say the glitch was visible to customers who logged on to their accounts during a 20-minute window Wednesday. They say no actual customer information or balances were affected by the issue.

Customers who logged in at that time saw outstanding balances of at least $710 billion.

Kauai resident George White says when he saw the error all he could think was, "Well, my wife is going to kill me."

First Hawaii Bank said in a statement that the issue was resolved quickly and that the bank apologized to customers who were inconvenienced.

Washington Times