‘Debt is the worst poverty.” — Thomas Fuller, 17th century English churchman and historian

No reporter asks about it. The candidates don’t talk about it. Are voters even concerned about it?

The unmentioned “it” is the national debt, which recently reached $27 trillion and continues to grow like an untreated tumor on the economic body of the nation.

At least one group is trying to get the public’s attention about how dangerous the national debt is to the future of the country. It is the newly formed Millennial Debt Commission, or MDC, a civilian-led commission working toward a framework for long-term deficit reduction, made up of “20 millennial business leaders from across the country.”

The MDC recently held a conference call with current and former members of Congress (all Republicans, unfortunately, since the debt is equally the fault of both parties) and former government officials.

One of those on the call was former Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Holtz-Eakin, who said the national debt is “quite literally mathematically unsustainable.” This is not new, as many have been saying much the same over many years, though they lack the will to do anything about reducing it. These include congresses with Democrat and Republican majorities and administrations. Holtz-Eakin added, “We are headed into a death spiral where we borrow to pay interest on previous borrowing, and it cannot be sustained.”

It is, as Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) calls it, “intergenerational theft.” We’ve heard that one before, too, but it’s one thing to sound an alarm; it is quite another to stop the thieves. Said Johnson, “70 percent of our budget (is) now on complete automatic pilot ...”

While some alarmists are warning we could all die from climate change in the next however many years (their predictions differ and have been consistently wrong), the national debt is a clear and present threat to the stability, even existence, of the country. Great nations of the past have expired, or been greatly diminished, by refusing to control debt.

Rep. William Timmons (R-S.C.) warned, “The global economy is not going to allow the United States government to borrow $70 trillion (his estimate at the current rate of borrowing and spending) ... we will lose our preeminent position and the dollar will just be in the trash can.”

Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wisc.) added, “... the projected Congressional Budget Office debt to GDP ratio at the end of the year is 101 percent. That’s really the tipping point when you talk to macroeconomists and where you get into a danger zone. ... What we need to do is have an adult and thoughtful conversation about how we are going to turn the tide and get back to a sustainable path going forward.”

Ah, but herein lies the problem. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told the conference call participants, “I was on the budget and appropriations process reform committee, the joint select committee that was established several years ago ... we couldn’t come together on legislation. We could not do anything more than simple window dressing. ... There are so many people stuck in the way that we’ve always done things ... and we really do have to move beyond that.”

The ongoing problem is how? As long as many Americans believe government owes them money extracted from other people, as long as politicians use spending to “buy” votes, refusing to say “no” to any request, the debt will grow. That guarantees the bill will come due sooner rather than later.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is among legions of people who have warned of the dangers of debt: “A man in debt is so far a slave.”

If that is true for individuals, how much more for nations?”

Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribpub.com.

(13) comments


You can tell when the conservatives have decided that Biden is going to win; they start to be concerned about debt again.


So, instead of addressing the national debt the Republicans cut taxes for the billionaires and large corporations. That just gives them more reason to complain about the problem they helped to create. Typical Republican logic.


I think this issue around debt is a specious one and is more political than financial. Interesting that all the people quoted were Republican who are always so eager to cut social spending but never handouts to the very rich. The U.S. Government issues money, it doesn't 'borrow' it. Our so called 'debt' (as a relationship to GNP) was much worse after WWI and that was followed by one of the greatest period of economic prosperity in US history. The true burden we lay on our country's future isn't government spending that is greater than taxes, it is a generation of people who can't find jobs, who can't afford higher education, who can't buy healthcare, and who can't access clean water or air.


I assume you meant WW II rather than the Great War. Earlier this year, our debt to GDP ratio exceeded the high point of WW II. To be sure, that may have been a blip because the GDP cratered in March. But it peaked at 121% during the war and stood at 106% pre-Covid. Our post war economic expansion may have owed something to so much of the rest of the developed world’s infrastructure having been blown up.


Agreed public. Since WWII never arrived on the US mainland, our infrastructure, factories, etc. were not touched. They were reconverted back to their pre-war intended usage, and supplied the world with the goods and services that the world needed. We were the only ones left, so the business opportunity was huge, and US business thrived, hence our post-war boom. We don't have that same opportunity today, yet we are heading towards that same WWII debt level. It cannot be sustainable.


NorthPointer, you wrote "The U.S. Government issues money, it doesn't 'borrow' it."
That is simply incorrect. U.S. Bonds are debt obligations whereby the U.S. Government was given an advance and is required to pay back the principle plus interest (much like when a bank or credit card company advances money for a mortgage or purchases of consumer goods). That is debt.


"...alarmists are warning we could all die from climate change in the next however many years (their predictions differ and have been consistently wrong), the national debt is a clear and present threat..." yeahhhh but if the whole world is on fire and flooding where will we meet to discuss the debt?

Greg F

So...author claims "their predictions differ and have been consistently wrong..." meaning who's...the 97% of world scientists who have been saying and agreeing on the same things for no less than one and as much as 3 decades? Those? Or the 3% made up of paid sponsors from lobbyists and industries with their own interests at heart, or the 3% of scientists who are on the D-F spectrum of the bell curve of competence? Those? We all know a bad lawyer...one who took 40 times to pass the bar. We all know an accountant that has gone against his client's better interests and also took many times to pass the CPA exam. This is not any different. We are seeing the ramifications of climate change and will continue to do so until half of Florida is under water. We are already seeing water percolating into the southern end of Florida into the water system, which is the canary in the coalmine to what is coming. Yet, the author remains steadfast in front of the the evidence that OJ didn't do it...and all is well. The rest of the letter is also just more blah, blah, blah from there.


Cal says " Ralph Waldo Emerson is among legions of people who have warned of the dangers of debt: “A man in debt is so far a slave.”" Is this true for Trump's debts also. Who is he a slave to?


Trying to imagine what Ralph would say about climate change..."a man on fire....smells delicious" ? I dunno



I'll give you one guess. It rhymes with bootin'. [whistling]


Debt is not bad if used right. If you can borrow money and have a high probability of earning more than the interest you owe on the borrowed money, then that debt is good. Additionally, many people would not be able to own homes if they didn't borrow money. However mismanaging money (whether or not one or an entity has debt) is always bad. Back in the day when creit cards capped the fee for a cash advance, I used to get new credit cards with zero percent interest introductory offers (15 months). I would max out the cash advance and pay the $30 fee, then invest the money in a 12 month CD. On one credit card I earned over $500 (and that is after the $30 fee I paid) basically risk free. I used that money to get my first LCD TV (and had a little left over). You'll never convince me with a broad statement that debt is bad. It's how you manage your resources overall.


Spending is not bad in itself. It can be an investment with return or a loss.

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