Unlike The Lannisters, The US Does Not Always Pay Its Debts

Despite what the experts claim, the US has defaulted numerous times before.

Unlike The Lannisters, The US Does Not Always Pay Its Debts

Past performance is a predictor of future performance in the case of the US debt ceiling, say the pundits, and there's a widespread belief that the US has never defaulted on its debts. Even Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen claims the US has paid all of its bills on time since 1789.

It's not true. As Politico noted in 2013, "America has stiffed creditors on at least two occasions." (Note those words: "At least".)

There was November 1814, when the War of 1812 had left the country a wreck and Washington in ashes.

There was 1979, when last-minute wrangling, bureaucracy, and office equipment failures led to a short-lived "technical default".

And then, there was 1971.

Back in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had taken drastic action to address the bank runs that were becoming a feature of the Great Depression. Citizens were ordered to sell all their gold bullion and certificates to the Federal Reserve at a fixed price of $20.67 per ounce. The government then revalued gold at $35 per ounce, inflating the money supply and the Fed's balance sheet. Lenders received dollars at the lower price.

Gold was held at $35 per ounce until August 15, 1971, when Nixon ended the convertibility of dollars to gold at a fixed value, thereby finally abandoning the gold standard altogether. This time, lenders received paper dollars back, no matter what the price of gold was. America was the largest economy in the world and could essentially do what it liked, so the rest of the world was forced to toe the line. It wasn't until 1974 that US citizens were allowed to own gold again—by which time, it was over $180 per ounce.

TL;DR America has a habit of bilking its creditors. Defaults real and technical, inflation and hyperinflation, outright theft in everything but name—if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, odds on its not going to rush to give you your cash back.

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