U. S. Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky is beginning to sound like a lone voice in the wilderness. He’s decrying the recent budget deal that will add significantly to the national debt. Our politicians are spending money and racking up debts like there’s no tomorrow.
Paul said on the senate floor last week: “When the Democrats are in power, Republicans appear to be the conservative party. But when Republicans are in power, it seems there is no conservative party. The hypocrisy hangs in the air and chokes anyone with a sense of decency or intellectual honesty.” (cnn.com, 2/9/18).
Is reckless government spending going to saddle future generations with debts that can’t be paid back?
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan said, “We don’t have a trillion-dollar debt because we haven’t taxed enough; we have a trillion-dollar debt because we spend too much.” Oh, if our national debt were only one trillion dollars. Now it’s up to the astonishing and unsustainable figure of about 20 trillion plus.
This gets me to thinking: What did our nation’s founders have to say on the subject of needless and reckless national borrowing?
In his Farewell Address (1796), George Washington cautioned, “As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is to use it as sparingly as possible, avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace.”
The father of our country goes on to say that “timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it.” And he adds: we should be “avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertion in time of peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned.”
Why should we do this? So that we do “not ungenerously [throw] upon posterity the burden which we ourselves ought to bear.” But this is exactly what we’re doing. It seems to me we’re stealing from our children and our children’s children.
Sometimes we forget just how costly a trillion dollars is. I once heard a speaker give this illustration: If I owed you $100 and said I’d pay you in a million seconds, when would I pay you? In 12 days. If I owed you $100 and said I’d pay you in a billion seconds, when would I pay you? In 32 years. If I owed you $100 and said I’d pay you in a trillion seconds, when would I pay you? In 32,000 years.
This is mind-boggling to say the least. Our founding fathers were wise in seeing the dangers inherent in reckless spending and borrowing.
Benjamin Franklin observed, “Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones.” It seems future Americans will be paying for a long time for the bad habits of many of our politicians.
The founders sacrificed so much on the behalf of those coming after them. In contrast, are we not essentially stealing from those who come after us? John Adams declared, “Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make good use of it! If you do not, I shall repent it in Heaven that I ever took half the pains to preserve it!”
Author and speaker Bill Federer once told me, “Our founders were willing to sacrifice their prosperity for their posterity. They pledged their lives and their fortunes and their sacred honor for their posterity. Today, we’re sacrificing our posterity for prosperity and saddling our kids with an unpayable debt, so we can maintain our standard of living.”
Thomas Jefferson warned against violating “the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, & the fruits acquired by it.”
Notice in particular what our third president had to say about governmental debt: “I place economy among the first and most important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers to be feared. To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. If we run into such debts, we must be taxed in our meat and drink, in our necessities and in our comforts, in our labor and in our amusements. If we can prevent the government from wasting the labor of the people, under the pretense of caring for them, they will be happy.”
This problem of government overspending by borrowing from future generations will never be solved until the politicians (and we the people who demand money from the public trough) curb such demands. Perhaps Reagan put it best: “Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other.”