Shorting Fiscal Consolidation
NEW HAVEN – Real long-term interest rates – that is, interest rates on inflation-protected bonds – have fallen to historic lows in much of the world. This is an economic fact of fundamental significance, for the real long-term interest rate is a direct measure of the cost of borrowing to conduct business, launch new enterprises, or expand existing ones – and its levels now fly in the face of all the talk about the need to slash government deficits.
Nominal interest rates – quoted in terms of dollars, euros, renminbi, etc. – are difficult to interpret, since the real cost of borrowing at these rates depends on the future course of inflation, which is always unknown. If I borrow euros at 4% for ten years, I know that I will have to pay back 4% of the principal owed as interest in euros every year, but I don’t know what this amounts to.
If inflation is also 4% per year, I can borrow for free – and for less than nothing if annual inflation turns out to be higher. But, if there is no inflation over the next ten years, I will pay a hefty real price for borrowing. One just doesn’t know.