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Citadel CEO Ken Griffin warns US public debt is ‘irresponsible’

Citadel CEO and founder Ken Griffin is putting pressure on the government to get its debt under control, warning that future generations will be forced to foot an inflated bill if the problem isn’t dealt with.
In his 2023 year-end letter to shareholders, the man worth approximately $38 billion stated that 2024 is likely to be a challenging economic year with growth below its potential.
However, this slowing growth will compound a problem that Griffin and a raft of other big-name CEOs are becoming increasingly alarmed by: national debt.
In recent months, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan and Fed chairman Jerome Powell have been calling for an open and honest conversation about how to shrink America’s $34 trillion public debt pile.
And while the aim is never to get that figure to zero, experts are increasingly worried by a specific data point: the nation’s debt to GDP ratio.
At present, that ratio stands at around 99%, though a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) put that figure at 166% by 2054.
This is a particular concern to experts who worry the U.S. economy won’t generate enough growth not only to service existing debt, but to take out more necessary loans needed for fiscal policies in the future.
As Griffin put it in his investor letter, released Monday: “As we have cautioned over the past year, the surging U.S. public debt is a growing concern that cannot be overlooked.
“It is irresponsible for the U.S. government to incur a deficit of 6.4% when unemployment is hovering around 3.75%. We must stop borrowing at the expense of future generations.”
It’s near-impossible for experts to predict when these aforementioned future generations will begin to feel the weight of the potential crisis.
On the one hand, Professor Joao Gomes, vice dean of research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School said the crisis could fall as soon as next year if the next administration rolls out an “expensive fiscal package that relies on implausibly rosy economic assumptions.”
Otherwise, he told Fortune, a market meltdown may occur “toward the latter part of the decade … I’m very confident by the end of the decade one way or another, we will be there.”
Meanwhile, Jamie Dimon says the crisis is about “10 years out,” telling the Bipartisan Policy Center in January: “If you look at that 100% debt to GDP by [2035] I think it’s going to be 130%, and it’s a hockey stick. That hockey stick doesn’t start yet but when it starts, markets around the world…there will be a rebellion.”
Griffin’s “expense” paid by the economically active of the future is likely to be a 7% “or higher” mortgage rates fee, Professor Gomes believes, as well as raised taxes and cuts to social spending.
However, the inter-generational argument of burdening future generations to pay for present-day debt isn’t a straightforward one.
For example, current Social Security benefits only survived to the 2020s thanks to higher taxes paid by employees in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, a great deal of fiscal support is expected to be needed on account of a population increasingly aging out of the workforce, so as Russell Price, chief economist at financial services firm Ameriprise Financial, told Fortune: “The burden of higher interest expense … is where future generations are going to see the value in how much they paid on the promises that were enacted so many years before.”
What can be done to balance the books
There are two well-known options to rebalance the debt and GDP ratio: increase growth or cut spending. The former is by far the most preferable and seems to be the side on which Griffin comes down.
The 55-year-old Harvard alumni added: “The Western world urgently needs a significant increase in productivity growth as the burden of rising government debt and entitlement spending strains almost every major economy.”
While some economists—Professor Gomes among them—believe the U.S. can’t increase productivity fast enough to rebalance its debt ratio, the majority agree that a crisis arising out of the fact the U.S. cannot sell any more debt will have far-reaching consequences.
America’s ability to pay its debts is a concern for the nations around the world that own a $7.6 trillion chunk of the funds.
The nations most exposed are Japan, which owned $1.1 trillion as of November 2023, China ($782 billion), the U.K. ($716 billion), Luxembourg ($371 billion), and Canada ($321 billion).
However, the leader of the Miami-based firm did have some silver linings for investors on account of the Fed’s successful battle with inflation throughout 2023.
“Focusing on the United States, we expect a more favorable climate for fixed-income markets as inflation eases,” he wrote, adding: “Consumers should benefit from an increase in real income due to declining inflation and continued wage growth.”

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