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For richer for poorer

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IN DECEMBER, as a winter chill descends on the continental United States, temperatures in Puerto Rico often reach 30°C. Palm trees sway alongside the Spanish colonial buildings in Old San Juan; the blue Atlantic stretches to the horizon. Yet the economic outlook for America’s Caribbean dependency is anything but sunny. Its government owes $72 billion in debt, which it says it cannot repay. On December 1st the territory is supposed to make—and is almost certain to miss—a $354m debt payment. And that is just the first of a series of repayments that add up to $1.4 billion (or nearly 1.5% of GDP) due in December and January.

Politicians in Washington are scrambling for a solution. The island’s fiscal woes are in part the result of chronically bad budgeting. But they also stem from structural economic weakness. Bailing out Puerto Rico, which is self-governing but not a state, is not a popular option. Yet when any corner of America faces a deterioration in its long-run economic fortunes, the costs will end up being shared, one way or another.

For decades Puerto Rico, which is poorer than the mainland, enjoyed a special tax status designed...Continue reading

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