"...neither the legislature, nor the nation itself can validly contract more debt, than they may pay within their own age, or within the term of 19 years."
- Thomas Jefferson
For roughly 150 years, the United States maintained a goal of paying off its debts within a generation - and the nation prospered. However, the standards began to shift after that first century and a half. Politicians have made various arguments along the way to justify their actions, but in the end, every taxpayer is now left with roughly $100,000 as his/her share of the national debt1. This number is increasing by roughly $10,000 per year, with no end in sight. Virtually all experts agree that our current path is unsustainable, yet none of our politicians2 have proposed a solution, and many are still calling for spending our way out of the recession.
It is true that running a deficit will help the economy in the short term, but only at an increased expense in the future. The same rules that apply to a family budget apply to the national budget. Interest must be paid on previously acquired debt, which results in a lower standard of living as long as that debt exists. When one generation fails to pay off its debts, the following generation is left to continually pay the interest on that debt. In short, this works as a generational transfer of wealth; parents are effectively stealing money from their children. I agree with Thomas Jefferson: it is unethical to burden our children with our debt.
However, I am also concerned that we are now entering new territory with the debt. Many countries have discovered that debt above a certain level results in economic collapse. Further, history shows that an economic collapse increases the risk of government instability and can result in the loss of individual rights. While history does not dictate this outcome, it seems to be self-evident that we should avoid taking this type of risk. Unfortunately, history does not provide us with an exact level of debt that will cause economic collapse. However, there is ample evidence that we are fast approaching the danger zone and, at current deficit levels, we will almost certainly reach it within a decade.
It is bad enough to acquire debt without any plan to repay it, but to acquire the level of debt that we are now seeing is fundamentally immoral. We must demand greater integrity from our politicians and from ourselves. The time has come to restore our honor and to pay our debts. My plan to do so is available here.
1 There are roughly 140 million taxpayers in the US while the national debt is roughly $14 trillion and the annual deficit is roughly $1.4 trillion.
2 Even Rand Paul's recent budget proposal only talks about balancing the budget, not about paying off the debt.