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News Link • Government Debt & Financing

Don't Forget America's Failed States

After spending a recent week in Los Angeles, I now understand the concepts of Peak Oil and road rage: Tens of thousands of cars, most containing only one person, going 75 miles an hour for a really long time to get anywhere. Besides being stressful, this system is fragile. It will grind to a halt on the day gas hits $6 a gallon. California tends to lead the way for other US states, which in the past was mostly good. But now the Golden State is about to become a Third World country, complete with deteriorating public services and a permanent, volatile underclass. Those "London burning" pictures will be replicated in LA before too long. The sad truth is that it's simply impossible to run a major US state with the current public sector pay/benefits structure. The process of scaling back pensions and salaries will hurt a lot of cops, teachers and social workers who don't deserve pain. But there's no mathematical alternative to a dramatic lowering of state/local operating costs. This is the inevitable result of three decades of lies told to public sector unions and taxpayers. The people making the promises (lifetime pension/health care for 50-year-old retirees, for instance) either knew they were lying or were really, really stupid. Either way, they're the villains in this story. The muni bond market has held up amazingly well considering that many of them are loans to bankrupt states in a soon-to-be bankrupt country. But in the coming year Meredith Whitney's prediction of "hundreds of billions of dollars of muni defaults" might come true, again with California leading the way.

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