Thursday, February 07, 2008

Robbing Peter and Paul to Pay Us

I generally don’t respond to comments made on my posts. If they are not obscene or just an ad for something I will publish them. I then figure that you, oh trusted reader, can compare my post with the comment and make up your own mind. But there was a comment to my post yesterday that I can’t allow to go unchallenged. (I hope I’m not opening a can of worms by ignoring my policy).

Yesterday, I attacked George W. Bush for submitting a budget to the Congress that provides for an increase of over four hundred billion dollars in our national debt. If you are a regular reader you know that our continuous practice of levying taxes on our descendents by spending more money than we have is something I cannot abide. We have been on a disastrous spending binge since 1981 (with the exception of the last two years of the Bill Clinton years) and nobody seems to care. Our national debt has gone from less than one trillion dollars when Ronald Reagan took office to over nine trillion dollars after only six years of W’s White House.

So what exactly did our commenter say that has the maven so upset? Read on:

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with deficits--in fact, running some defect [sic] makes sense because our children will be much richer than we are.

Now if someone wants to tell me that we need a certain amount of debt because United States Treasury securities are a needed avenue of investment in the world, I will agree. If someone tells me that at times there are emergencies that require the government to spend more money than it has, I will agree. If someone tells me that, since the Federal Government does not have separate capital and operating budgets, a certain amount of borrowing to invest in buildings and infrastructure is proper, I will agree. However, when someone says it is okay to push the cost of our gluttonous consumption to future generations because they “will be much richer than we are,” I must blow the whistle and yell “foul.”

In many of my posts on the national debt I have been quoting Thomas Jefferson. So it is likely that I used this one before. In an 1816 letter to John Taylor, Jefferson said,

I sincerely believe... that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale.

I think old TJ said it better than even this maven could. By running up monstrous debt to avoid paying for what we consume, we are stealing from our children and grandchildren. It is that simple. But our commenter justifies this theft on the grounds that our children and grandchildren will be rich.

As Charlie Brown would say, “Arrgghhhh!” To even suggest that it makes sense to steal from our children because they will be richer than us is down right immoral. It’s like Willie Sutton saying it was okay for him to rob banks because they could afford it.* This is like Robin Hood but with a twist. We are stealing from the “rich” and keeping it. Besides being immoral, it might not even be true. Continuing to increase our debt will have disastrous effects on our economy in the years ahead and our descendants might just find themselves wishing they had as much as their grandparents did.

If we’re going to continue to steal from future generations lets not justify it as being good for them. Let’s at least have the decency to confess that we have a terrible consumption addiction and that we just don’t feel like paying for it ourselves. Let’s admit that we refuse to live within our means and that it would just be too inconvenient and costly to increase taxes to pay for what we use.

* Willie Sutton was a notorious bank robber and prison escaper of the years of my youth. When asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, Willie replied, “That’s where the money is.”

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