Congressman John Campbell's Moment Of Epiphany - Realizes US Is One Big Ponzi

Tyler Durden's picture

Zero Hedge first observed the duration mismatch in US Treasury holdings back in November 2009, when we highlighted the concerning amount of debt that the government has to roll every year courtesy of about 30-40% in outstanding paper that is of very short duration (under 2 years or so). We have also been pretty adamant that by now the US economic system is nothing but a ponzi scheme pure and simple. Today, we observe how this epiphany manifests itself when it occurs to a congressman, in this case John Campbell (California). The punchline: "I understand that the Fed and the Treasury are trying to keep interest rates low and improve the economy and the deficit. But, when coupled with the huge deficits, these moves look a bit like a Ponzi scheme that will soon unravel." Amen brother.

From John Campbell's website:

Treasury Bonds: I learned something last week. I learned that fully 40% of the over $9 trillion in Treasury debt currently outstanding to the public has a maturity of 3 years or less. Put another way, it means that we are rapidly approaching $4 trillion in U.S. debt that matures by 2014 or sooner. As I write this, the yield (interest rate paid) on a 2-year Treasury note is 0.645% or about 2/3 of one percent. The yield, at the same time, on a 10 year Treasury note is 3.4%, and on a 30 year is 4.55%. In bond parlance, this is called a "steep yield curve" where interest rates get much higher as you go farther out in time.

It's pretty clear why the Treasury is doing this. By issuing mostly short-term notes, the Treasury is paying less interest, thereby keeping interest costs and, consequently, the deficit down. In addition, the Federal Reserve is in the middle of its "quantitative easing #2" (QE2) under which it is buying $600 billion of our own Treasury debt over about a 6 month period. The Fed is not buying the short-term notes, but is buying 10 year maturities and longer in order to hold those rates down. And, since the Fed is earning the interest thereon (paid by the U.S. Treasury), it is improving its yield. We are currently running a deficit of about $130 billion per month, so the Fed is basically buying all of the new bond issuance from the deficit for almost 5 months.

What does this all mean? I understand that the Fed and the Treasury are trying to keep interest rates low and improve the economy and the deficit. But, when coupled with the huge deficits, these moves look a bit like a Ponzi scheme that will soon unravel.

We are printing money ($600 billion) to buy our own debt so that the full effects of the deficit are not felt. We are buying long-term bonds to artificially hold down the rates on those bonds since home mortgages and many other things are based on those rates. We are selling the short-term bonds at cheaper rates to hold down costs now, but are leaving ourselves open to huge cost increases when interest rates go up. And, we are at historic lows on these short-term bond rates. If they were to rise by 3 points (which would put them where they were at as recently as 2008), our deficit would increase by another $150 billion per year, even if the long-term rates stay the same. And, once the Fed ends QE2, even if it doesn't reverse it, the markets will then have to absorb a new influx of long-term bonds at a time when our ability to pay them is in question. The Fed can cure a bunch of this simply by printing a lot more money. That, however, will result in an inflationary period with major wealth destruction and economic malaise.

In the period between 2005-2007, we were sowing the seeds of the 2008 financial crisis through too much leverage in the private sector. But, very few people could see it coming. Today, we are sowing the seeds of another crisis with too much leverage in the public sector. This time, though, it's easy to see it coming.

h/t Bill

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Lazarus Long's picture

welcome to the fucking party asshole

B9K9's picture

Amazing, huh? What a nice, concise summary. It's all there, spelled out in black & white.

And yeah, he's a little late, but better than never, no?

Dr. Richard Head's picture

Agreed.  I didn’t come to the party until summer of 2008.  I don't quite remember my Ah-ha moment as it relates to understanding the monetary ponzi phenomena, but I am 100% positive that a snapshot of my life prior to that moment was one of pure ignorance and running on debt (just like our “representatives”).  When the true reality of the ponzi manifested itself in my reality there was no turning back.  Surely it is a good sign, or maybe it isn’t.  Lip service rhetoric is a favorite weapon in the arsenal of our “leaders”.   

hedgeless_horseman's picture

Campbell better be quiet, or his fellow California congressman, Pete Stark, is going to throw him out a window:

Michael's picture

The federal government and the Federal Reserve Corporation can only provide an illusion of recovery. This country needs to stop living in fantasy land. It's pattern no longer even resembles two dimensional thinking, it represents myopic thinking.

Dr. Richard Head's picture

Tell that to the customers of the Disney Stores.  Sames-store sales for Disney are blowing through the roof.  How many stuffed fucking mickey's does this world need?

MachoMan's picture

Not necessarily...  I'm still not sure whether austerity or printing is better...  given the inevitable conclusion of both...

pyite's picture

I thought I was the only one in this situation!  I had always been opposed to printing, until (and correct me if I have any of this wrong) I realized how the Fed gives money to banks for free which they then use to buy government bonds at 4%+.  Of course the people in this situation want 100% austerity.

Before I could go along with 100% austerity, it must be accompanied by a reversal of the 2005 bankruptcy crackdown - and in fact it should go way the other way and let anyone easily walk away from their debt as long as they have bankruptcy on their history and give up their house and other non-essential assets (keeping retirement funds is reasonable though of course).  Banks should go along with this as a condition for the bailouts.

The only solution to the financial crisis is a "jubilee" - and I don't see any way other than this to make it happen.  It is past time to embrace and plan for the deflation and get it over with quickly.


MachoMan's picture

We've long since passed the point where the problem was solveable through deflation...  at the very least it would take a massive, massive default on domestic entitlements.  I simply have not seen any evidence that taking our medicine at this point will somehow prevent us from a dollar collapse.  It would likely prevent an immediate collapse, but it will only delay the inevitable.  It seems to me that the path that prolongs our situation and allows us to prepare the most for the coming collapse would be preferred...  essentially, we all benefit from the time bought for the banks...  albeit some more than others.  In the end, I think repudiation is in our future...  I suspect we'll talk a big game with austerity, but we haven't the balls to materially implement it for any reasonable duration.

traderjoe's picture

Our National debts are based upon treason - the invalid counterfeiting of money by private corporations (the Fed and the fractional-reserve banks). Our debt should be repudiated and the Fed should be collapsed, and fractional reserve banking outlawed. Then, a true national currency of interest-free and debt-free scrip (like the Lincoln Greenback) can be offered. Ideally, there would be competing currencies and monies, like private and/or national PM-based backed notes like the Kennedy Silver Certificate. 

Why is our national currency printed by private businesses and then loaned to the government for its use? Well, we all know that/those answer(s)...

Mark McGoldrick's picture

Our National debts are based upon treason...

That is pure libertarian lunacy. If you're referring to the death sentence for debasing the currency (Coinage Act of 1792), it was overturned in 1965 by Johnson.  This is the society that you and your countrymen created and voted for.  This didn't happen overnight. You voted for it, and allowed our problems to manifest themselves as they are. Waking up at the bottom of the 9th inning makes you equally complicit in this lopsided society.  

All you libertarians need to stop your bitching and your overly dramatic whining.    

You already have the freedom to do anything you want. You want competing currencies?  You already have it.  It's called the 4X market. If you don't want your dollars - if the world doesn't want dollars - you (and everyone else) can simply exchange them for Swiss francs, Australian dollars, Canadian dollars, euros, yen, kroner, pounds, pesos, dinars, riyals, bahts, gold, silver or sea shells.  Or you can exchange your dollars for American stocks, bonds, munis, Asian stocks, Asian bonds, Euro bonds, real estate in Dubai, penny stocks, farms in Peru, cotton fields in China, or chemical companies like Warren Buffet just did.  

You can do anything you fucking want with your wealth - preserve it in whatever asset you wish.  If you're so frightened by the prospects of the US dollar, simply use a small portion as a medium of daily exchange (for its convenience), and exchange your left-over dollars for any wealth-preserving asset you wish.  

It's very simple - you simply need to manage your wealth, and there is no God-given right that your wealth must adjust for inflation. Gone are the days where you could "set it, and forget it."  Preserving your wealth is simply another wild card in the survival-of-the-fittest game, and true libertarians should embrace it as another filter to weed out the weak.   

You libertarians claim to want social darwinism and survival-of-the-fittest anarcho capitalism, right?  You got it - and the plutocrats are kicking your ass. Stop bitching about curve balls, and learn how to swing.  Darwinism and adaptation necessitates unfairness.  Those who can adapt win, which means that those who want to return to the 1800s will probably lose.  


Broker NotBroke's picture

We're just poor sports is all...


Also, no fair. They're Pro players and most of the libertarians are swingin' without a Tee for the first time.

pyite's picture

All you libertarians need to stop your bitching and your overly dramatic whining.


you simply need to manage your wealth, and there is no God-given right that your wealth must adjust for inflation

As a libertarian I would have to respond by saying to get a medical marijuana prescription, smoke some, and relax.

It is easy to confuse micro-economic (how to preserve your wealth) vs. macro-economic issues (government policy).  On public news-related sites like this one, I always expect the discussion to be on the latter.  Admittedly, government policy is driven mainly by the micro-economic wishes of the upper crust rather than by what is best from a macro-economic perspective for the country as a whole.



asteroids's picture

After two years can any one explaing why credit card rates still haven't fallen?

MachoMan's picture

because borrowers haven't gotten any more credit worthy?  [and the rates have to outpace real inflation].

Zero Govt's picture

because the biggest monopolies in the world, Visa and Mastercard, are parasitical scum

MachoMan's picture

At some point there has to be a counter argument for consumption discipline...  looks like a two way street at best. 

pyite's picture

Rates have been at historical lows since 9/11 basically.

I'm sure the average APR is higher these days, though.  Credit card companies have to make money somehow if they want to stay in business; but these days a higher percentage of people can only get cards with higher rates.  However, if you have good credit you can still get quite low rates.  As the cliche goes, to borrow money at a good rate you just have to prove that you don't need it.


the phantom's picture

HAHAHA... I just spit out my coffee with that aptly put comment.

Sudden Debt's picture

After 3 decades, one gets it. How many does it make to make them realize they should do something about it?

CPL's picture

Most people understand the problem of dogshit while at a public park, you'll find that 99.999% walk around/over/circle the dog shit instead of dealing with the problem which ispicking up the dogshit shit in a plastic bag and disposing of it.


The problem of public debt as dogshit, let's see if one of the politicos is brave enough to pick it up.

Hacked Economy's picture

Hey Sudden...
ZH isn't displaying my animated GIF avatar with motion...just a flat image.  How'd you do yours?  Is there a secret handshake I need to give to Tyler or something?

Al Gorerhythm's picture

I thought it was the gah factor.

Lazarus Long's picture

sorry about the foul language, but this is a four term congressman and a Certified Public Accountant if he just realized what's going on, the the above remarks are very kind.

Cactus Rocky's picture

He's also a car salesman who made his dough working for his dad's dealerships. And he made sure car dealers were exempt from any fin reg. And he won the seat that Christopher Cox left in order to take his pillow and blankey over to the SEC. Those two are the Real Douchebags of Orange County.

robobbob's picture

he's just hedging his bets so when the mobs come he can claim he was right with them

detersbb's picture

Is it not refreshing that the last ones to realize that the government operations they preside over are in fact a ponzi scheme are the ones running it?  Is it surprising to see the last ones to realize they are the foxes are the foxes themselves guarding the hen house?

nope-1004's picture


God Bless Americans....  not their leaders leading them over a cliff.


Chris Jusset's picture

The Ponzi-driven US economy is a house-of-cards held together by Congress's rampant deficit spending and Banana Ben's relentless money printing.  Each day, increasing numbers of bandaids must be applied to this teetering house-of-cards to prevent the Ponzi scheme from collapsing.  Ben Bernanke is one of the few men to out-Ponzi Bernard Madoff.

WakeUpPeeeeeople's picture

Never underestimate the power of printing money. However, one has to wonder what would happen if the printing presses were to suddenly stop.

Chris Jusset's picture

The lesson of history is that ONCE THE PRINTING PRESSES START, THEY NEVER STOP.  Once you go down the road of feeding a bottomless debt with money printing, you can never leave.


Similarly, once Charles Ponzi and Bernard Madoff decided to create pyramid schemes rather than foster genuine, bona fide business ventures, they committed themselves irrevocably to continually and increasingly feed the pyramid scheme by enlisting more suckers.


This will not end well.

Dooud's picture

And ALL Ponzi schemes end the same way, someone holding the bag, which is empty. The problem is that this is the 1000x mother of all Ponzi's, just waiting for it's black swan moment to collapse. I need to make sure I have a 5 year MaryJane supply....... Tangibles, man,

WaldenPondzi's picture

The Dude is correct. Even if your not a weedsmoka, take some of those FRN you're plannin' on spending on Silver & Gold and buy some Ganja! There's plenty of people out there who will take some green (the tangible kind) over even the shiny stuff...

artinlight's picture

well said

well said

TemporalFlashback's picture

First Pimco, now Cambell. Something must be in that Orange County drinking water.

cossack55's picture

Thanks California for giving us such a phucking wunderkind. That is about 256 brain-dead dolts from the soon-to-be-former west coast.  Sadly, my (what do you call them when they only represent themselves and TBTF banks?) empty-suit/heads are not any better.

docj's picture

Well, that's the point. Right?  At least this dope maybe, kinda-sorta gets it.

My CongressCritter (Lynch, D-MA09) is still talking the happy skittle-shitting rainbow recovery happy-talk and my next-town-over CongressDouche (that would be Barney Freaking Frank, D-MA04) still insists Fannie and Freddie are A-OK.

nobusiness's picture

Wall Street tired of Japan talk.  Time to rally.

Mr Lennon Hendrix's picture

While you were writing someone puked blood on your pom poms.

Agent P's picture

He's a fourth term Congressman and CPA, and he just figured this out?

Milton Waddams's picture

Cut him a little slack, he has a BA in Economics.

Mad Max's picture

I understand that formal training in economics now qualifies you as mentally disabled.