Morality and the national debt

Michael Tanner‘s latest column for National Review Online explores the “moral dimension” of our national debt.

“Oh Lord, give me chastity,” St. Augustine is reputed to have said. “But don’t give it yet.” So it is with Republicans who have vowed to show some fiscal discipline — sometime during President Trump’s second term.

But while we are waiting, the Congressional Budget Office has announced that this year’s budget deficit will top $960 billion, $63 billion more than predicted in May of this year. And next year’s deficit will almost certainly exceed it. After that, the era of trillion-dollar deficits is here to stay. By 2029, CBO reports our $22 trillion national debt will top around $34 trillion.

President Trump may accomplish the truly Herculean feat of becoming a bigger deficit spender than President Obama. And he’ll do it without a catastrophic recession to deal with.

How did we get here? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it wasn’t the Republican tax cut. In fact, when compared to 2018, tax revenues went up 3 percent in the first nine months of fiscal year 2019. Would they be even higher in the absence of those cuts? Maybe. But the real problem, as usual, is out-of-control spending. …

… One wonders how all those young people complaining about their student debt would react if they understood that their theoretical share of the national debt was about $67,000.

The growing debt does not come without consequences. There are, of course, economic repercussions. Over time, debt can slow growth, reduce wages, and hinder our flexibility in responding to economic slowdowns.

More important, there is a moral dimension as well. Every child born today inherits a portion of that debt. We are living at our children’s expense.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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