Adam Smith once commented that "there is a great deal of ruin in a nation". He meant that bungling governments imposed only a limited check on the economic performance of a Great Nation.
As Nathanael Smith and I show in our study of US economic contractions, Adam Smith would be much less sanguine were he confronted by today's financial crisis and the US government's response. Indeed, it is not impossible that the US will experience the kind of economic collapse from first- to third-world status experienced by Argentina under the national socialist governance of Juan Peron.
The US economy suffers from a growing culture of indebtedness that has increasingly contaminated the federal government since 2001 and has spilled over dramatically into private household behaviour. The combination of the ill-conceived fiscal-furnace fired by President Bush and the US Congress and the reckless monetary-furnace fired by Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke throughout the period 2001-2007, created unsustainable housing market and stock market bubbles whose collapse brought on the financial crisis and economic contraction of 2008-2009.
The policy responses to the debt bubble demonstrate crude political consideration rather than economic understanding. If excessive government indebtedness is a major source of the problem, why increase the government debt? Why encourage households to go yet further into debt?
The prognosis is catastrophic if projected government policies are not cut back. According to the White House's own estimates, the federal budget deficit in 2009 will be $1.6 trillion, approximately 11.2pc of the overall econo