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A Swindled Future: The Cost of the National Debt

From the slaughter of schoolchildren to draconian abortion bans, there is much to deplore in our political present. Daily headlines are littered with stupidity, cruelty, dysfunction, and death. Such a disturbing picture makes it easy to dismiss less tangible issues—like the $31 trillion national debt—as mere distractions. But the government’s profligate ways are no longer a theoretical concern. Spending-fueled inflation has ravaged households. Medicare and Social Security are hurling toward financial explosion, and generations to come will be shackled with a manacle of debt, paying the tab for our fiscal gluttony. 

In an 1816 letter, the great Thomas Jefferson denounced “spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, [as] swindling futurity on a large scale.” 

As with much of Jeffersonian philosophy, it would be absurd to take this stance unconditionally. In an economic crisis or war, the federal government’s spending must often exceed its revenue to sustain vital programs and meet financial obligations. 

But government “funding” is all too often a convenient euphemism for pork barrel corruption and indefensible defense expenditure. As the Federal Reserve hikes rates, annual interest payments on the debt are projected to reach $750 billion. That is nearly double what the government expects to collectively spend on education, disaster relief, environmental protection, agriculture, foreign aid, the National Institutes of Health, and NASA this fiscal year. 

The Congressional Budget Office projects that the US will spend 20% of its annual tax revenue servicing the debt by 2033. The clock is running. It is past time for a forthright conversation about the fiscal pit we are digging for ourselves. 

Many Republicans talk about fiscal discipline and deficit reduction, but it is often out of both sides of their mouth. In the past half-century, every Republican president increased the deficit. Only Democratic Presidents Clinton and Obama cut it, the latter faced with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. 

Republicans pay lip service to debt reduction when a Democrat is in the White House but do the precise opposite when they are in power. Under President Trump, the GOP passed their signature Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—adding $2 trillion to the debt—and increased spending by $800 billion. True to form, Senate Republicans are now lambasting President Biden’s proposed budget, demanding spending cuts and shrieking about the deficit. The GOP is entirely cynical about fiscal policy and should not be taken seriously. 

On the Democratic side, President Biden recently highlighted the deficit and proposed a substantive plan to reduce it by $3 trillion over the next decade. This has irked progressives, who prefer to close their eyes and wish the issue away. When confronted, Bernie Sanders and his ilk cheaply dismiss concerns about the debt burden on future generations—and the unfathomable cost of their policies—as the sly work of the evil incarnate, corporate America

Unbelievably, these same people stomp their feet and rightly decry the intergenerational injustice of climate change! Such hypocrisy boggles the mind. 

But out of all Democrats, Governor Gavin Newsom takes the cake for fiscal folly. As prices soared last year, he announced “inflation relief” checks, with eligible Californians receiving up to $1,050. The governor must have lost his Economics 101 textbook. More money in circulation leads to higher demand and higher inflation, not lower. Oops!

Now to the central question: why does an issue as increasingly consequential as the national debt receive so little honest attention from either party? The answer: it is not a sexy culture war and requires prioritizing long-term financial health. 

In addition, the political rewards of profligacy are immediate while the ramifications are delayed. Indeed, our spendthrift government has evolved its own version of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount: “Take no thought for the morrow and saddle the next guy with the bill. Meanwhile, give everybody everything. 

The young and the unborn will ultimately pay for the enormous sums our geriatric Congress spends. But financial ruin will arrive much sooner, and when it does, it will be too late. The national debt is a whale, quiet and out of sight until, like Moby Dick, it breaches the surface and sinks the financial ship of state.  

Featured Image Source: Patcharapon Pachasirisakun

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