Congress’ continued deficit spending isn’t just unwise, it’s unjust. Once the pandemic is over, it needs to stop.
Even before COVID-19 required massive government spending to rescue Americans, the national debt increased by $2 trillion in President Donald Trump’s first two years. That was after he said he would pay down the debt in eight years, Republicans controlled both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the economy was booming. The opportunity was there, but it was ignored.
Deficit spending is an example of moral hazard. We don’t feel the consequences of our actions so we’ll continue doing more of it. But here’s the rub: Somebody, eventually, is going to bear the burden of paying down the debt. If interest rates rise from their current record lows, that burden will fall on the backs of our children and grandchildren. No country can continue growing its debt indefinitely, and austerity measures will be borne by some generation of Americans.
That means higher taxes — on everybody, not just the rich — and reduced benefits, especially in Social Security and Medicare (the two largest drivers of the debt, pre-pandemic). It may even leave us crippled in our attempt to maintain a safety net for those who need it. By continuing to spend more than we have, we are requiring that future generations make sacrifices on our behalf, without giving them a say in the matter.
This is intergenerational injustice. It’s taking from the future to give to the present. Continued deficit spending is the easy thing to do. But it comes at a cost to future Americans.
Keeping food on people’s tables, helping small businesses survive, and fortifying our health care system are all worthy reasons for deficit spending right now, but the danger of borrowing too much should be a part of politicians’ considerations. We shouldn’t borrow more than we absolutely need and once the pandemic has been withstood, the Joe Biden administration should prioritize debt management.
The likelihood of that occurring, however, is low, as Biden’s multitrillion-dollar relief plan — just a month after Congress passed a $900 billion relief bill — shows. The dollars added to the debt, and the future Americans they will harm, don’t matter.
If we want to have a sustainable safety net for people in need, we must have more fiscal discipline. This isn’t an economic imperative — it’s a moral one.