Default Myth Busting: Sorry Simon and James, the U.S. is not a Default Virgin

Professor Simon Johnson and James Kwak of The Baseline Scenario have an article atVanity Fair about the geopolitical importance of credit in late-18th century France, Great Britain, and (especially) the United States. Their article, however, fails to mention an important detail which also happens to contradict their claim that “the (U.S.) federal government would always honour its debt”.

The consolidation/conversion of U.S. revolutionary state debt into federal debt, which took place in the early 1790s, and which the authors refer to in the paragraph prior to the above quote, represented a U.S. sovereign default. (For more on this event see Reinhart and Rogoff (click on the U.S. tab) or Sylla, et al, which describes the ‘haircut’ bondholders received (6% to 4%).)


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