In 1777, Congress sought to raise taxes as a means of funding the war against Britain. When this strategy proved to be of ill-effect, they began printing paper money and funding the war through debt financing. Within a matter of 6 years, our new nation had accumulated over 8 million dollars in national debt. This may seem like a small amount by today’s standards, but in the 1700s, 8 million dollars was quite the chunk of change! To put it into perspective, if we were to translate that same 8 million into today’s currency, the debt incurred from 1777 to 1783 would be well over 500 million dollars! Still, the leaders of our country during this time saw the devastating effects that increasing debt would produce and were able to develop strategies to pay debts off in a relatively short period of time.
Unfortunately, this reverence for responsible debt management did not translate well into the 20th Century. Major contributions to massive accumulations of debt included further war financing, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the implementation of Keynesian macroeconomic ideology. Rather than utilizing debt spending for arguably necessary endeavors, debt spending became the go-to solution in times of economic turmoil.
We can see how this has translated to the private sector as well. It used to be that individuals and families (for the most part) would strategically plan their debt to finance relatively necessary endeavors (i.e., homes, vehicles, business investments, etc..). Now, the average American will go into debt over a pair of sneakers. This flippant spending model is a mirror image of what the government does year-after-year on a much larger scale.
Putting Things into Perspective
At the close of fiscal year 2020, the United States’ national debt stands at over 27 trillion dollars. This is an incredible number! To put that into perspective, if denominated in 100-dollar bills, 1 trillion dollars would be enough to fill 4.5 Olympic-sized swimming pools. As it stands, our current debt has the capacity to fill just over 121 of these massive pools. Talk about drowning in debt!
Another interesting statistic concerns the calculated amount of time it would take to pay off our current debt. One source from 2014 claims that when the debt was at 17.9 trillion dollars, it would “take more than 398 million years of [a single individual] working at the average wage to pay [it off].” To put it another way, “even if every man, woman, and child in the United States would work [absolutely free] for one year…it still wouldn’t be enough.” We have gone nearly 10 trillion dollars further into debt since 2014. What would these numbers look like today?
These statistics are difficult to imagine! However, it does not seem like there is any indication that things will be slowing down anytime soon. According to MarketWatch, “The cumulative deficit between 2021 and 2030 is projected to total $13.0 trillion.” That is just over 58 more swimming pools full of 100-dollar bills in the next nine years!
How Does the Public Feel About the National Debt?
Why then is the overwhelming majority of American citizens and the media silent about this? Simply put, we have become accustomed to living well beyond our means. On top of this, we have proven that when hard times come upon us, we look to the federal government to “fix” things so that we can continue our cushy lifestyles uninterrupted. According to a Pew Research study conducted in January of 2019, “half of Americans (48%) said reducing the budget deficit should be a top policy priority.” Compare this to a more recent report from August of this year that showed, “just under half of U.S. adults (47%) called the deficit ‘a very big problem.'” The majority of Americans are more concerned with topics such as: improving the economy, decreasing Medicare premiums, and boosting the education system. That is not to say that these are unimportant issues that should be left alone. However, do we really think that further deficit spending is going to make things better?
Even when Congress seeks to limit deficit spending by implementing various policies and a debt ceiling, there is a good chance that these measures will be reversed as soon as hardships come in the economy or a government-funded project is deemed worthy of further borrowing. The result is a never-ending cycle of massive borrowing and slow repayment.
Conclusion: Why Does it Matter?
While to some, the national debt may seem like an insignificant matter. To others, it is demonstrative of the irresponsible spending habits of our population as a whole. Both the government and individuals alike spend tomorrow’s money today for the sake of comfort and ease (in most cases). While the alternative may we have to “tighten up our belts” for a time, the result is a nation that does not have to rely on spending money it does not have.
Proverbs 22:7 says that “…the borrower is slave to the lender.” Thus, it would make sense that the greater the debt, the greater the burden of slavery imposed on the borrower. Not only this, but we have also placed a tremendous burden on subsequent generations. Rather than leaving a good inheritance (Prov. 13:22) for those that come after us, we have left them with trillions of dollars’ worth of debt!
The words of Judd Patton here are worthy of our consideration. He concludes that,
“The American people must embrace a change in thinking and values. Collectively they must pull their hands out of the public treasury. That is, they must initiate a benefit rebellion, not a tax rebellion. They must once again prefer to earn income in the marketplace by serving others, not by seeking political income through consumptive policies of dependence—transfer payments and redistributive schemes. Then expenditures can be slashed, and the budget balanced easily year after year.”
Well said Mr. Patton, well said.
 Toscano, Paul. “What Does $1 Trillion Look Like?” CNBC, August 5, 2010. Last modified August 5, 2010. https://www.cnbc.com/2009/04/08/What-Does-$1-Trillion-Look-Like.html.
 Black, Simon. “New Data Shows It Will Take 398,879,561 Years to Pay off the Debt.” Sovereign Man. Last modified October 22, 2014. https://www.sovereignman.com/trends/new-data-shows-it-will-take-398879561-years-to-pay-off-the-debt-15309/.
 Nicholson, Jonathan. “U.S. Budget Deficit to Hit Record $3.3 Trillion This Year, CBO Says.” MarketWatch. Last modified September 2, 2020. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/u-s-budget-deficit-to-hit-record-3-3-trillion-this-year-cbo-says-11599070944.
 Oliphant, J. Baxter. “Fewer Americans View Deficit Reduction as a Top Priority as the Nation’s Red Ink Increases.” Pew Research Center, February 20, 2019. Last modified February 20, 2019. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/02/20/fewer-americans-view-deficit-reduction-as-a-top-priority-as-the-nations-red-ink-increases/.
 DeSilver, Drew. “The U.S. Budget Deficit Is Rising amid COVID-19, but Public Concern about It Is Falling.” Pew Research Center, August 27, 2020. Last modified August 27, 2020. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/08/13/the-u-s-budget-deficit-is-rising-amid-covid-19-but-public-concern-about-it-is-falling/.