…was looked on as something shocking, now heaven knows…anything goes.
So says the musical genius Cole Porter
And that resonates in politics today as Republicans historically looked upon increased debt as something shocking until it was their turn and then anything goes. Now that Joe Biden has won the keys to the car for four years—or actually two until he may lose control of both House and Senate—addressing the combined assaults facing America today, the price is suddenly too high for Republicans.
National debt is an interesting creature to contemplate
There are two flavors of national debt. One is money owed to other nations or outside entities. Let’s call it chocolate. Those debts accrue interest and must be paid back. Sometimes the interest alone is problematic. That’s the debt you have to keep an eye on. The other kind is debt that accrues to building, rebuilding or maintaining the infrastructure that constitutes the very lifeblood of the body politic. That’s vanilla and if you avoid borrowing those funds from outsiders (who must be repaid) that debt takes on a very different quality. Printed on Treasury presses and owed to America, means owed to Americans. That’s us, you and me and the neighbors next door to all of us.
Does a product come out of that?
Super important question. If we borrow money (usually in the form of bonds) to keep the government afloat from China, Japan or the investor-class, there is no product, unless you call keeping the lights on in a deadlocked Congress a product. That’s unwise, inflationary, unsustainable, costly as hell and will ultimately run the country into the poor-house. Ditto borrowing money for our seemingly endless unfunded and unwinnable wars.
Seems there’s always a ‘but’ in life and the but in this case is rebuilding our abandoned infrastructure, converting our oil-based economy to solar-wind and paying attention to bringing our industrial base back home. Not to dare to call that a Green New Deal, for fear of incurring a knee-jerk Republican we can’t afford it response. We can afford it. It fits the bill of both a debt to ourselves and leaves a product behind.
And just consider the product
Tens of millions of jobs that can’t be outsourced to China. Toilets that continue to flush and streets cleared of garbage and rainwater in our major cities. A national electric grid that doesn’t burn down 20% of California every year. Bridges, schools, highways and high-speed-rail that actually serves Americans.
Electric power from renewables
Let’s consider that for a moment in the leaving a product behind context. It’s doable, both technically and quickly. Given the proper government commitment and incentives, America could be 100% energy-renewable in three years. Think about what that means. There’s a construction cost involved, but there was with Eisenhower’s interstate highway program as well—and all we got was highways. Try to wrap your mind around free energy, with only the cost of operating and maintaining an electric grid. No oil at so much a barrel, no gas at so much a cubic foot. Sunlight and wind are free and we’re very close to solar generation in space. What’s your annual heating (or air-conditioning) bill? How much of what you buy is the fuel for trucks (clue: everything you buy ultimately comes in a truck)? How much of the cost of trains, planes and passenger-cars is fuel related? Imagine a world where you didn’t give a damn. How much does the cost of everything from a head of lettuce to the car in your driveway come down?
You haven’t got to the increase in debt part yet
Right, I got carried away with the jobs and benefits part. I brushed up against it when I said we can afford it because It fits the bill of a debt to ourselves and leaves a product behind. It’s the difference between an asset and an expense we need to understand. An expense (money to run Congress) is deducted from the benefit (if you concede there is one), hence it's a liability. A solar-panel on your roof, reduces your costs and leaves a useful product up there with the leaves in the gutter and it has a lifetime as well. Thus it is an asset. Repeat after me: assets are good, liabilities are bad. Now for the clincher: All federal debts must be repaid. Well duh, I guess. But Yeah, we’re back to the but again. You knew we would be. According to dear old reliable Wikipedia, the federal debt at the end of the 2018/19 fiscal year (ended September 30, 2019) was $22.7 trillion. The portion that is held by the public was $16.8 trillion. Aha! We owe just under $6 trillion to those troublesome others, who must be paid. But, just under $17 trillion is owed to our dear old Uncle Sam. Sam’s been pretty good to us over the years and would likely forgive the seventeen trillion, along with whatever additional trillions might be needed to keep the wounded businesses in America from folding, plus more to keep families from going under, get through this horrible Covis-19 thing and rebuild the middle-class with union-wage work. He might even toss in enough to give our kids a break on education costs.
Sam isn’t endlessly rich, but he knows a good deal when he sees one
Past, present and future, Sam, give the money to us. We’re your family. And family is worth saving, even Republican families. It won’t cost a thing to invest in an asset—and we are your most valuable asset. Invest in us and save the America in reach before we go bust.
And though I’m not a great romancer, I know that you’re bound to answer when I propose—anything goes
Image Credit: James V. Ruocco