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Themes

Our interviews will focus specific attention on these four areas:

The Federal Budgetary Process
The Macroeconomics of Debt
Debtor Nation: Broadening the View of Debt in American History
Global Debt

The Federal Budgetary Process:

Despite an expanding domestic economy in the 1980s the Kemp-Roth tax-cuts combined with increased defense spending resulted in large and consecutive budget deficits uncommon for peacetime. This trend continued largely unabated through the presidency of Bush 41 and Bill Clinton's first term. However, during Clinton's second term the president and Republican congressional leaders passed four surplus budgets in a row. With the election of Bush 43, annual deficits returned and the national debt again rose to historic heights.

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The Macroeconomics of Debt:

According to former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, "The increase in indebtedness since the early 1980s certainly has been extraordinary... breaking a pattern that had persisted through most of the postwar period." The turn towards large budget deficits in the early 1980s brings up a host of topics and questions about the role of debt, broadly defined, as a feature of the domestic and global economic landscape.

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Debtor Nation: Broadening the View of Debt in American History:

Budget making and monetary policy is a set of choices. But those choices are often responses to events over which no one government has control. How do major, unexpected changes influence policy making, budget forecasting, and monetary decisions? Alongside these considerations are various arguments about the morality of debt. Since Jefferson and Hamilton, politicians, economists, journalists, and countless others have continually weighed in on the U.S. debt, whether inveighing against the low savings rate of the American consumer or the failure of the federal government to pass a balanced budget. Debt, broadly defined, is an issue of keen public and political interest that intersects with other debates about taxation, entitlements, foreign policy, personal responsibility, corporate citizenship, and the role of government.

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Global Debt:

National economies have become increasingly interdependent during the last four decades. With the decline of the Bretton Woods monetary system in the early 1970s and the widespread trend towards trade liberalization, nation-states have been less able to exercise complete control over their economic affairs. Still, important vestiges of the Bretton Woods system remain, most notably the World Bank and the IMF. These two bodies have been deeply involved in the management and rapid growth of lending to developing countries over the last half century. What forces have given risen to increasing indebtedness in the global South? Are there lessons for the United States in the historical and present experiences of poor nations in handling their debts? How does the "contagion" of debt spread from one country to another, and what have nations and multilateral financial organizations done to stem the spread of debt crises?

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