(Author's note: I've offered this idea a couple of times over the past few months here, with surprisingly little reaction. I'm trying once again, because I'm persuaded that much of the leverage that conservatives and Republicans have over our fate is due to the belief that most people hold that federal deficits, the national debt, and the GDP ratio are important, and that we must bring them under control to avoid Government insolvency. In addition every one seems to believe that the existence of the debt is due the to the profligacy of the Government, its monumental waste, and the lack of courage of its politicians who spend too freely to please constituents, gain campaign contributions, and help themselves to stay in office. None of this is true. The current existence of the National Debt, and also of a non-zero public debt-to-GDP ratio is the inevitable result of a technical decision that Congress has made about how the Treasury should finance its spending. This post talks about that decision, points out that its consequence is the National Debt, and also points out that the very existence of the National Debt is the fault of Congress.)
It is Congress's fault that we have a national debt at this point in our history. And also Congress can largely get rid of this debt over a 10 year period any time it wants to.
The national debt exists today because when the nation went off the Gold Standard in 1971 and adopted its fiat currency system, Congress did not repeal its mandate, very appropriate when our currency was convertible to Gold on demand, in least in theory, requiring that the Government back all its deficit spending with already existing borrowed dollars whose convertibility was covered by our holdings of Gold. This Congressional mandate to borrow funds by issuing debt instruments when the Government deficit spends, is what has caused the national debt to persist.
Had Congress repealed it when President Nixon took the country off the Gold Standard, and had we ceased to issue debt at that time, then the Government would have re-paid all of our 1971 debts as they came due, and our national debt today would be zero and our debt-to-GDP would now be at 0%.
The Congressional mandate to issue debt when the Government deficit spends has no useful function today, and the interest income it provides for mostly wealthy investors and foreign Governments who buy Treasury Securities is simply a form of welfare for the rich. In fact, it is welfare that will cost the Treasury almost $12 Trillion over the next 15 years if we continue the policy of issuing debt instruments. Read below the fold...