In these weekly commentaries I try to stay pretty even-keeled but the whole “fiscal cliff” mess has driven me over the edge. The nation – the American people – are $16 trillion in debt – $16 trillion with no hope for reductions on the horizon. And, just so we’re clear, what Congress and President Obama just agreed to only makes matters worse.
But before I hit the roof, let’s keep budgets and debt in perspective. When we anger over such things it’s easy to forget that balanced budgets and zero debt really never have been the standard. Since 1791, when we first started keeping track of national debt, officially, the United States was in debt to foreign powers to the tune of $1.8 billion (in current dollars). In other words, the U.S. always has run a debt to one degree or another. Of course, periods of war (and there have been many since our founding) increase the debt most dramatically. But I should note that the decision in the 1960s to create the modern welfare state has taken this country to new levels of debt.
Budget surpluses are also rare at the federal level. From 1940 to 2013, a 73-year period, our federal government ran a budget surplus only 12 times. Out of six dozen years, Congress ran a budget surplus only a dozen times.
And I should add that while I support a constitutional amendment requiring balanced budgets, we need to be clear that politicians who want to spend your money will always find a way around any limitation to do so – always. Read more