Why We Shouldn’t Focus Primarily on the National Debt

National Debt Clock

Earlier this week, as the Democratic National Convention was getting underway, the U.S. national debt hit $16 trillion. Politicians – particularly the Republicans – went crazy online posting on social networks about how we should resist the Democrats and their desire to run the debt up even higher.

As if Republicans in Washington are much different.

The irony, of course, is that so many of the Republicans screaming about the debt are big contributors to (and causes of) it. But while we should definitely be concerned about debt, focusing primarily on it as our problem opens the door for raising taxes. Our national debt isn’t our primary problem; it’s just a symptom of a much, much bigger problem: spending.

If we control spending, we control debt. For far too long, spending has been out of control, and the result is an out of control debt.

We have an annual deficit (because of excessive spending), and the fight in Washington is over a fraction of that deficit. Republicans push for huge deficits, but their huge deficits are slightly smaller than what the Democrats want.

Dan Mitchell recently asked the question, “Does the $16 trillion debt really matter?” That’s a great article from Dan, well worth your time for a thorough read. In short, yes, it does. But focusing on the debt as the disease isn’t the answer.

And does anyone think our economy would be stronger, or our fiscal position would be better, if we replaced some debt-financed spending with some spending financed by class-warfare taxes?

Especially since the higher taxes almost certainly would trigger more spending, so government borrowing would stay the same and the only thing that would change is that we’d be saddled with even more waste.

Notwithstanding all my educational efforts, Republicans couldn’t resist jumping up and down and making loud noises earlier this week when the national debt hit the $16 trillion mark earlier this week (a google search for “$16 trillion debt” returned more than 24 million hits).

As long as neither major party is willing to tackle our spending habit, that debt will continue to grow. That’s because the debt (and the ways the debt is financed) is merely a symptom of spending too much money.


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