The Debt Piles Ever Higher

By Al Jacobs

With President Trump’s debt ceiling arrangement with Democratic congressional leaders on September 6, the U.S. National Debt officially passed the $20 trillion mark for the first time ever. Such a symbolic event naturally brings out a host of alarmists to predict the coming demise of the nation. Included among the critics is the editor of my county’s newspaper with a foreboding editorial headed by, “Will Congress ever tackle the national debt?”

Among the revelations is that the debt “translates to more than $125,000 per U.S. household.”  They next point out the official debt does not include the unfunded obligations of Social Security and Medicare, which “pegs the total to more than $103 trillion – well north of $800,000 per household.” The warning is rounded off with a quotation by Congressional Budget Office Director Keith Hall stating, “The growth in debt it not sustainable. At some point it is going to get to a very high level.”

Though I don’t particularly approve of our government consistently spending more than it takes in, I fail to view it as an impending catastrophe. It has been a consistently growing part of the U.S. economy since its founding in the late 18th century. Its only massive slash occurred during the presidency of Andrew Jackson in the 1830s, with a modest decline during the Coolidge era of the 1920s. And it’s important to note the debt is collective, not singular. Although in theory each family may be singled out as being responsible for $125,000, it’s all somewhat esoteric, in that no collection agency will be taking action to collect anything from anyone.

The editorial concludes with an ominous warning: “No matter which political party is in power, our elected leaders do not intend to ever to pay off all our debt. This will continue to be the case until, or unless, enough voters demand that it become a top priority.” That’s a pretty shrewd prediction. I see no benefit to any elected official in attempting to extract substantial sums from constituents for an expense which will be understood by few persons. Nor do I see many voters who will demand to be taxed for the purpose of balancing a ledger sheet of which they understand little or nothing.

A final thought: I consider it wise that each of us minimize our personal debts as much as possible, but community debt that is no one’s specific liability may be ignored.

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