Whatever Happened to the National Debt?

Nobody talks about the national debt any longer. Has the problem gone away? No, the debt is higher than ever before.

The total federal debt of the U.S. government has now increased more than $7 trillion during the slightly more than five and a half years Barack Obama has been president.

That is more than the debt increased under all U.S. presidents from George Washington through Bill Clinton combined, and it is more debt than was accumulated in the first 227 years of this nation’s existence–from 1776 through 2003. [reported at CNSnews.com 8/4/14]

When we had a Republican President, the national debt was a hot issue. And it should have been, especially since the last Republican President (along with a Republican Congress for most of his presidency) spent more on extra-Constitutional items than Republican presidents normally do.

That last Republican president raised the “bar” on spending, setting the stage for the next Democratic president (even without a fully Democratic Congress much of the time) to spend more than any administration since the founding of the American republic. And that’s exactly what happened.

I say “spending” but it’s important to understand that most of what the government now pays for is with borrowed money. It’s borrowed against the earnings and productive effort of future generations of Americans.

How ironic that a government headed by a man (Obama) who moralistically chastises people for being “selfish” is so willing to borrow against the wealth of future generations – decades if not centuries down the road – who haven’t even yet had a chance to create the wealth we’re “borrowing” from them.

If self-interest is so evil and bad when people create it noncoercively, as in a profit-making business, then why is it so virtuous when it’s forcibly taken from people before they’re even born?

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama criticized then-President George W. Bush for adding $4 trillion to the national debt, saying it was “unpatriotic” and also “irresponsible” to saddle future generations with such a large national debt.

If it was unpatriotic and irresponsible for George W. Bush to add $4 trillion to the national debt (and it was), then how is Obama adding $7 trillion to the national debt not even worth a comment – not even from his alleged opponents?

For an answer, we have to look outside of politics and economics. We have to look at psychology and (even deeper) into ethics and philosophy.

Psychologically, when people refuse to name an obvious fact – the “elephant in the living room” or a metaphorical emperor wearing no clothes – the only possible explanation is: denial.

Denial starts out as evasion. Evasion refers to a refusal to look at inconvenient facts when they arouse anxiety or other uncomfortable emotions. Facing those facts leads one to become anxious. The anxiety eventually needs a way of being squelched or reduced.

Rationally and morally, the way to address the anxiety is to identify the truth—the full, unvarnished truth—and acknowledge where one went wrong, so one can begin finding a solution.

In the case of our politicians and those who support them (including the majority who presumably still support Obama’s borrowing, since they voted for it twice), the policy has instead been one of evasion and denial (i.e., evasion becoming automatized). That’s where we are with the national debt, and with so much else.

For a long time, fiscal conservatives and advocates of limited government pointed out that America was spending more than it brought in, and how that’s a bad thing. Today, the problem is way beyond that.

America does not merely spend more than it makes; it borrows way, way, way more than it ever could make over several generations, even if you expropriated every single rich person in the country. And, by the way, if you were to expropriate every single rich person in the country (always a tiny minority), they would no longer produce wealth. They’d simply quit or go underground, hiding their wealth in any way they can.

There’s not enough wealth available to satisfy the never-ending, exponentially rising thirst of the entitlement state advocates; and there never will be.

These are all the things that are evaded so that we can keep borrowing—not spending, but borrowing—like there literally is no tomorrow; or no day after tomorrow; or no decade or century after tomorrow.

Obama will leave office in another couple of years. Unless the country completely self-destructs, he and his family will always be very well off and fine. (Communist nations had no economic growth, but the rulers always lived just fine.) Ditto for Obama’s probable successors, e.g. Hillary Clinton (who’s already highly well off and fine), or anyone else who comes along, including from the hapless Republican side.

For the rest of us, it might not be so easy, particularly as we deal with the hyperinflation or other developments that will possibly occur from unrestrained government borrowing, continued inflation and other manipulation of our fiat currency (i.e., a currency not backed by any objective standard other than a reckless, self-serving and irrational government.)

For more details on the economics of government spending and borrowing, I suggest you consult distinguished economists / economic thinkers such as Ludwig von Mises; Frederic Bastiat; Henry Hazlitt; Andrew Bernstein; John Allison; and George Reisman, to name only several.

As of June, there were 115,097,000 households in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The $17,687,136,723,410.59 in debt the federal government had accumulated as of the end of July equaled $153,671.57 per household.

The $7,060,259,674,497.51 in new debt that the federal government has taken on during Obama’s presidency equals $61,341.82 per household.

The majority of Americans, including many of Obama’s supporters, are hard-working and largely self-responsible people. Ask yourself: Are you getting your money’s worth from that debt? Or, if you feel no responsibility for any of that debt—to whom are you assigning that responsibility, and why?

At a minimum, our elected leaders ought to make a case for why the national debt doesn’t matter, or why they think it’s actually a good thing, since they continue to pile it up.

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