Friday, July 17, 2020

Washington: On the Public Debt

It is true that many of our founders believed that a moderate establishment of public credit was necessary for the strength and security of the Union, but it is also true that the warnings attendant to its use should give us reason to be very leery of our national debt which today quickly approaches 20 trillion.

George Washington cautioned in his farewell address that we should use "public credit... As sparingly as possible..." And "avoiding the accumulation of debt... By vigorous exertions in times of Peace to discharge the debts which unavoidable wars may have occasioned..." Washington makes no provision for debt incurred for domestic concerns and, as with most of the founders, never envisioned the entitlement state of our time. Because of this assumption Washington believes the best way to avoid the accumulation of debt was to "avoid occasions of expense by cultivating peace." While this is certainly not the driver of national debt today it is still sound advise.

Most pertinent to us may be Washington's admonition that we not ungenerously throw upon our posterity "the burden which we ourselves ought to bear." Washington charges the people's representatives with the responsibility to the exertions necessary to discharge the debt but Washington understood that such action would fail unless "public opinion should cooperate, to facilitate to them the performance of their duty."

It is certainly impractical to expect that our representatives can successfully restore frugality to this nation if the public continue to demand more entitlements and public excessive expenditures.

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