By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
June 19 was Father’s Day, so it would be especially appropriate–but highly unlikely–for our nation’s leaders to reflect on a classic bit of fatherly wisdom. It was dished out in Act I of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. That’s where Polonius gave the following advice to his son, Laertes, before the lad left for school: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”How’s that working out for Uncle Sam? Not so good. As the week prior to Father’s Day began, the “official” national debt totaled around $14.36 trillion – about $46,210 per person. However, with the total increasing at a rate of $3.95 billion a day, it could be expected to reach roughly $14.39 trillion by Father’s Day. Indeed, to keep up with the total, you may need to peek at the “debt clock” from time to time. You’ll find it at http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/.
Unfortunately, as a front-page article in the June 7 edition of USA Today pointed out, this $14 trillion-plus figure severely understates Uncle Sam’s obligations. If the federal government had to list its long-term debts the same way it makes businesses do on their balance sheets, the total would be closer to $62 trillion – about $534,000 per household. That $62 trillion figure is approximately what Uncle Sam is currently on the hook to pay when we add up Social Security, Medicare, the pensions and health care benefits promised to military veterans and retired federal employees, and interest payments on the skyrocketing national debt.If current trends continue, how will our children and grandchildren meet these obligations we’re bequeathing them while also finding the funds to pay for vital purposes such as national defense, disaster recovery, and maintenance of our nation’s infrastructure? It won’t be easy. For a clue as to the difficulty, check your recent credit card bills. New federal regulations require your provider to tell you how long it would take you to repay your debt if you sent in only the minimum monthly payment. Short answer: Practically forever. Same goes for the feds’ indebtedness.So maybe it’s time for Uncle Sam to heed another bit of fatherly advice from none other than the “Father of Our Country,” George Washington. Like Polonius, he was not fond of indebtedness. For instance, in an April 7, 1799 letter to James Welch, he wrote “To contract new debts is not the way to pay old ones.” Then again, contracting new debts to pay old ones describes the current federal practice of raising the debt ceiling – borrowing more money, much of it from China, to repay previous borrowing while also covering the current budget’s deficit. Washington would be appalled. In his “Farewell Address” on September 17, 1796, he had this to say: “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, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen, which we ourselves ought to bear.”Unfortunately, the current batch of federal officials – in both political parties – have largely ignored George Washington’s wise advice on debt as cavalierly as they’ve ignored the checks and balances of the U.S. Constitution under which he served. Therefore, when it comes to the legacy they’ll leave the next generation, let’s call them what they are: deadbeat dads.