12 October 2021

Interest Rates are at Their Lowest Rate in 5,000 Years (Or Why Biden's Investment and Infrastructure Plan is Too Timid)

The Dutch have interest rate records that go back 500 years. Interest rates never once went negative in that entire period ... until just a few years ago.

It gets better. Adam Tooze recently shared a graph showing that interest rates are their lowest in 5,000 years. [Adam Tooze's tweet and graph are here: https://twitter.com/adam_tooze/status/1446437719283060753/photo/1 ] That's a long time.

Biden wants to invest $350 billion a year in infrastructure and other public sector investments. That works out to about 1% to 2% of GDP during the next 8 years. Democrats are defending it and Republicans are attacking it. It is indefensible. With interest rates this low, we should be investing 2 or 3 times as much. Imagine someone making $100,000 a year saving and investing only $2,000 out of their salary. That would be irresponsible and yet that is Biden's bold plan. 1.8% of this year's GDP and probably about 1% of what GDP will be in 8 years. Now imagine that for every $100 you invested, you had to pay back less than $99 in 30 years. (And that is, indeed, the price of 30-year bonds now.) Why would you not invest to at least match past generations, imitate the great Lincoln and FDR?

Lincoln made massive investments during the Civil War: a transcontinental railroad, and Agricultural and Machinery Colleges all over the country, among other things. After the Civil War, the economy boomed. FDR made massive investments during WWII: huge infusion of capital investments and R&D that first went into the war effort and then into peacetime production. Additionally, the country plowed huge sums into universities, research and highways right after the war. The result? The decades just after WWII broke the record for productivity gains that were set by Lincoln. Investments drive productivity and wage growth. And that was before capital was free.

I keep banging on this drum but rather than invest in creating a great future, both parties seen intent instead on fretting about the future. Don't be sucked in by Democrats' timid plans for the future or Republicans' showing such a lack of faith in the future that they refuse to invest in it. Tell everyone you know, "But interest rates are the lowest they've been in 5,000 years! We'd have to be fools not to invest truckloads of money right now." Even if you don't believe in the future, talk and invest as if you did. It'll make you look like a better person. Pessimism and fear just makes you look small.

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