I'll leave it to the economists and pundits to discuss the specific numbers of our skyrocketing national debt. I believe debt can be a positive factor in an economy if it is used as a tool of investment. In other words, if we "borrow money to make money," and the new money created services the debt and makes us all more prosperous, then - cherio - print those bonds!
Great examples of debt-financed investment might be the interstate highway system, capital improvements to our military, building a canal, cleaning up a disaster area, etc. The most brilliant use of investment debt in American history was probably that incurred by Thomas Jefferson in the purchase of the Louisiana territory - a dramatic expansion of land for a bargain-basement price.
There is an obvious limitation on this borrow-to-get-rich scheme in government: politicians are unable to distinguish between politically-expedient spending splurges and real investments for the nation.
Anything a big-donor special interest group requests of a politican is touted as an "important, essential investment." Even if it has no potential of growing our national income. Even if we really can't afford it.
Free health care. Cash-for-clunkers. Auto union bailouts. Home buyer credits. "Make work" stimulus projects.
Items like these dominate the national discussion - "consumer spending" rather than "capital spending." Here's the difference: consumer spending is when you run up your credit card balance eating out and traveling, then have to buckle down and pay off those bills later on, often with high interest. You may have had fun along the way, but you have nothing to show for it and no accumulated wealth to pass along to your kids. You end up working harder and longer for less and less. Capital spending is when you borrow to start a business or improve your home - you'll pay a price for the debt, sure, but the wealth you'll build will hopefully out-grow the debt you started with. At the end of the day, you have something that creates wealth for the future.
(To be fair, some of the recent stimulus plans from the federal government involve capital improvements to the nation. While I favor the improvements, I don't believe that "yes we can" means "yes we should." And I don't buy the notion that taxing private money to pay for public projects is a way to actually "stimulate" the economy. It just reshuffles the dollars away from the people who earned them and into the pockets of mostly inefficient government bureaucracy. It "stimulates" the growth of the government and hinders the growth of personal wealth.)
If the federal government wanted to borrow a trillion dollars for an investment that they deemed important for our national security, liberty, or prosperity - I'd be interested in finding out more. I don't know what that might be - an upgrade to our military forces, an initiative to open up space commerce to average people, a refurbishing of our national infrastructure, an environmental cleanup and restoration plan - if it could be demonstrated that borrowing for these causes would "pay for themselves" in the long run, we might be on to something. Before they fired up the debt-printing-presses, however, I'd want to see proof that local governments or private industries could not handle the project on their own. Then, if the item was Constitutional, the debt was affordable, and the investment return was widely agreed upon, I'd raise my hand in favor of the plan.
But social welfare, entitlement "feel good" spending is precisely the opposite of constructive investment debt. Entitlement spending results in never-ending growth of debt principal and interest. It's "eating out" on the credit card every night, with no intention of letting up (and even adding some extra dinner guests along the way)! It's promising more and more benefits to people and planning to pay interest on those benefits tomorrow. The only trouble is, "tomorrow has a enough trouble of its own." And so, the debt grows. Billions, trillions - without any hope of repayment -- actually, without even an intention of repayment.
My concern is not with "debt" itself, but with our use of it. In this series, I intend to prove that one of the greatest moral failures in our history is unfolding before our eyes - every time we add another zero to our already mountainous debt, every time we add another unfunded promise to the needy out of "compassion," we fail again - we fail our kids, who will labor their entire lives away and forfeit an increasing lion-share of their income to pay for our bad decisions; we fail our principles, allowing our government to balloon out-of-control at the expense of our personal liberty; and we fail our own conscience, convincing ourselves that we can purchase compassion and prosperity with money we haven't earned.
Our debt expansion may be the greatest threat to liberty we have ever faced - because we're comfortable with it. The moral compromise that begins with unwise debt can only lead to greater compromises down the road, and ultimately, the undoing of our way of life - the ruin of our nation. I don't know if we've passed the point of no return already. I do know that Americans have risen to meet great challenges before, and to that end I submit these thoughts for your consideration.
In posts-to-come, I'll propose a change of course, radical as usual for eRevolution - Constitutional to the core.