Now, the states want to get in on the action.
Of course, the states will not ask for the direct power to print money. They have a more clever way.
In a move with only one modern-day precedent, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic lawmakers are pressing the Obama administration and members of Congress for federal loan guarantees to help the state out of a desperate, multibillion-dollar jam.
California is not asking for cash, like the tens of billions given to AIG, General Motors or Morgan Stanley. (MS) Instead, the state with the worst credit rating in the nation is asking that Washington act as a sort of co-signer on the state's borrowing, to be backed up with money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
California leaders say that would make it easier and cheaper for the state to borrow money on the bond market, reducing the interest rate by as much as half and saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
So, here we go. The states are "not asking for cash" - only federal government "guarantees" to get them out of a "jam". Sound familiar? This is exactly the premise of government sponsored agencies (GSAs) like Freddie and Fannie that were to "guarantee" pools of mortgage backed securities. Such guarantees resulted in the massive issuance of mortgages since they could be pooled and sold to GSAs all in an effort to "help" first time home buyers by keeping mortgage rates down (and underwriting standards lower than otherwise). That worked pretty well, right...?
If the federal government offers similar guarantees to state municipal bond offerings, it will effectively remove any constraint to state level spending. States will no longer have to face the politically unpopular choice of raising taxes to generate revenue or, gasp, cut spending. They will be able to borrow ad infinitum since the federal government will stand behind the state debt with its printing presses in tow. Such a mechanism would effectively transfer the power of printing money to the state level with all of its attendant consequences: reckless spending and runaway indebtedness all backed by the United States taxpayer who will shoulder the burden directly through increased federal taxes or by paying more for everything in the form of inflation as the dollars created to pay for this mess work there way into circulation.
Because this idea is unjust - it effectively spreads state level obligations to other states - and because it is economically disastrous - it will encourage states to spend and borrow more thus crowding out private investment and spurring inflation - and because it mitigates the short run need for politicians to face the consequences of their actions - look for it to pass unopposed.