Thursday, July 28, 2011

Disastrous Debt - America plays chicken with the world

My letter-to-editor in the National Post July 28, 2011
Imagine using your credit card to purchase an item in a store, and having it refused because you have exceeded your credit limit. Essentially that is what is about to happen to the U. S. government. I doubt it will happen, but having it come so close, less than one week, has already had a negative impact on the American credit rating.
The lesson from this is that no person and no country, should rack up a debt so large that payback is jeopardized. How could this happen to a sovereign nation?
Well, probably not that differently from the debt accumulated by an individual, I would imagine. When spending is greater than income, when wishes are confused with needs, and when the future seems so far off, anyone can get into debt problems.
But countries are managed by intelligent people (we hope), elected to represent the best interests of the population. That of course is an assumption that is debatable.
Americans have long considered themselves the world's policemen. America claims it is defending liberty and its own interests in the many, many military adventures it has launched since the Second World War. In how many countries has the American military deployed troops? Would you believe 150 countries! More than 10% of America's Armed Forces personnel are in other countries, far more than at any time since the WWII. Imagine the expense. Most often war or military occupation is a choice and it invariably causes debt, American legislators and Presidents have chosen war and occupation, many times. Spending is a choice as well, so is borrowing. Just as households can live within their means, so to nations. The problem is not debt, it's spending. Instead of living within one's means, an individual chooses to buy now and pay later, putting off payment to the future.
But nations are different from individuals. An individual can only blame him/herself, presumably no individual was physically forced to accept debt or repay it. Nations of course use force as in almost all aspects of their operations. Legislators are often elected with a plurality of votes, not a majority. Even a majority seems inadequate morally, when so many are forced to pay for government actions that they would not support. Yet that is the morality of gang action, of democracy! Worse, the burden of debt is shared by everyone in the nation at some level whether they supported the government action or not, young, old, the newborn and the aged. The original need for the debt is often dubious. The economic pain to the nation is frequently unequally distributed. But the coercion required to repay the debt is always huge and widely spread.
This debt problem won't be "fixed" by raising the debt ceiling (which will happen). What is required is not going to happen, that is, a full assessment of what the U. S. government should and should not be doing. The Democrats and Republicans are on the same side, and that is not on the side of the American people. People will realize that at some point, but when?

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