It gets worse.
Many of the securities that the Fed has acquired are long-term bonds and mortgages. As inflation and interest rates increase, the value of these securities plummets. (A bond that pays 2.5 percent interest loses roughly half its value when market rates rise to 5 percent.) In this scenario, the Fed will be incurring losses, which will require a subsidy from the government budget. Thus, the challenge with balancing the budget gets even more difficult.
Another term that economists have coined in the context of government debt is “sudden stop.” What that means is that when all other sources of lending have dried up and the public’s tolerance for hyperinflation has been exhausted, the government must suddenly balance its budget. That is how government debt crises typically end. At that point, the irreconcilable expectations of Lenders and Spenders are resolved, one way or another.
The political conflict created by the debt in the United States is as large as it is in Greece. I believe that Americans will not be as prone to violent demonstrations, but the underlying anger will be there nonetheless.
The burden of the debt is that we create an ever-deeper conflict of interest between Lenders and Spenders. Yes, if you think of Lenders and Spenders collectively, you can say that “we owe the debt to ourselves.” But that is a dangerously vacuous way of looking at it. Large government debt is a recipe for a bitter political stew.