Last month the US national debt surpassed $30 trillion for the first time in the country’s history. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the crisis will only get worse in the coming decades, with the national debt expected to double as a share of the economy by 2051.
With regular forecasts predicting that the federal government could default on its debt, Americans have not shied away from expressing their concern. An Ipsos poll last year found that 80 percent of Americans agree the government “wastes a lot of money,” and the same poll found that only 15 percent of Americans believe “there’s no need to worry about the federal debt.”
Yet, the debt crisis has continued to escalate. Although Americans support fiscal responsibility in theory, data suggests most resent it in practice. According to Pew Research Center, despite public trust in government being at a historic low, when asked about specific government programs, the overwhelming majority of Americans favored either keeping spending the same or increasing spending.
Furthermore, Americans are often out of touch with how much money the government truly spends. Most Americans believe that the United States spends approximately 25 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid and would reduce that spending to 10 percent. In reality, about $39 billion, less than 1 percent of the federal budget, funds foreign aid. Inversely, even though the federal government already spends nearly $79 billion annually on education, 72 percent of Americans support increasing education spending.
The United States has not had a national budget surplus since 2001. If this trend continues, the future of the national debt will be dire. The nation is increasingly looking to the federal government to solve its problems. In 2020, Gallup’s annual poll about how Americans view the role of government found for the first time in 28 years that a majority of Americans want the federal government more involved in solving their problems.
Tasking the government with providing basic necessities for all its citizens is both impractical and shortsighted. Additional government programs come at the cost of expanding the national debt. It was America’s free enterprise system, not expansive government regulations, that created its economic prosperity. President Calvin Coolidge’s refusal to intervene in the economy during the 1920s is what spurred the economic growth which defined the era. Coolidge was also the last president to lower the national debt.
Defaulting on the government’s debt would tarnish the public’s trust in the dollar. It would ruin the credit rating of the United States and send the financial markets into turmoil. American household wealth would decline as the stock market suffers, and interest rates would rise, making loans for American consumers and small businesses more expensive. A default would weaken the value of the dollar to the extent that it could lose its status as the primary global unit of account, rendering it impossible to preserve the American standard of living and plunge the nation into a severe recession. All of these consequences can be avoided with fiscal responsibility at the highest levels of government.
It is time for Americans to take the national debt seriously. The federal government’s attempts to help the American people through inordinate spending only accelerate the country toward economic catastrophe and make default more inevitable.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.