Yes, Robert Samuelson is warning about debt again. Apparently the sharp drop in interest rates around the world leads him to believe that investors are about to lose confidence in the ability of countries to repay their debt.
It's great that we have Samuelson to give us these warnings, otherwise people might think that low interest rates (i.e. high bond prices) meant the markets were telling us that there is not enough debt. After all, high prices usually means demand exceeds supply.
Thankfully Jeff Bezos and the Washington Post give us Robert Samuelson to tell us to ignore textbook economics, don't get any ideas about boosting the economy by building up infrastructure and other public investments.
"Can we avoid a global debt trap and regain faster economic growth rates that foster stability and human well-being? Whatever debt’s virtues as a first response to deep slumps, it has its limits. We cannot promote prosperity simply by piling new debts atop the old. We need to build a stronger economic foundation."
Instead we should just be really worried because Robert Samuelson apparently has no clue what is going on.
It is perhaps worth reminding folks that interest payments in many cases are quite low at present, even though debt might be high. For example, even though Japan has a debt to GDP ratio of close 250 percent, its interest payments are less than 0.8 percent of GDP. In the U.S. interest payments on publicly held debt are a bit over 1.0 percent of GDP, well below the levels hit in the early 1990s. While many people raise the alarm that interest rates might rise and suddenly increase this burden, they ignore the fact that if interest rates rise, the market value of debt falls. In other words, if the interest rate on long-term debt issued by Japan were to jump to 2.0 percent from the current level of around 0.6 percent, the price of its debt would fall. Depending on the exact issue price and maturity, the drop could easily be more than 50 percent. This would go a long way toward making the current debt burdens appear much less dramatic. In short, there isn't much of a scare story here.