The In-house Publishing Initiative of the Wharton Financial Institutions Center
The Law School and the Wharton Financial Institutions Center (FIC) at the University of Pennsylvania organized the conference “Is U.S. Government Debt Different?” in Philadelphia on May 4 and 5, 2012. The event was financed by a Sloan Foundation grant to the FIC. The conference was conceived against the background of skyrocketing U.S. government debt, the standoff over the statutory debt limit between the Congress and the President of the United States in the summer of 2011, and the ongoing debt crisis in the Eurozone. This confluence of shocks and near misses impressed on us the urgent need to consider the unthinkable: default, restructuring, or a wholesale reassessment of the U.S. Treasury securities’ place in the world. The conference brought together leading economists, historians, lawyers, market participants, and policy makers to discuss different aspects of U.S. government debt, including its role in the global financial markets, its constitutional, statutory and contractual basis, and its sustainability. Having laid the conceptual foundation, the conference ended with a discussion of a thought experiment, mapping out options for a hypothetical U.S. debt restructuring.