Fiscal Prudence Begins at Home


Monday, December 18, 2023

Fiscal responsibility has long been a rallying cry of the right. Unsurprisingly, this message is still falling on deaf ears—despite dire news making it more prevalent. In August, the United States’ credit rating was downgraded by Fitch. More recently, Moody’s lowered the federal government’s credit outlook to “negative.” After decades of apathy toward the ever-expanding national debt, America is finally paying the price. 

Fitch’s downgrade marks only the second time in US history that the country’s credit rating has been downgraded, the first of which was by Standard & Poor’s in 2011. In both cases, concerns over high government spending with an inability to control the expanding national debt were among the reasons. 

Of the three largest credit ratings agencies, Moody’s is now the only one to maintain its highest credit rating for the US government. Even Moody’s, however, is pessimistic for the future of the country’s fiscal health, forecasting a rising challenge of the US in being able to afford its debt as interest expense consumes more of federal spending with Congress’ partisanship preventing any ability to avert a fiscal crisis.

Americans can try to blame politicians for shirking responsibility on the debt issue. At the end of the day, however, it’s the voters who have failed to hold legislators accountable. H. L. Mencken said, “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” 

Classical economic theory teaches that people respond to incentives, and it is no secret that legislators will say and do whatever will get them elected. Any apathy they show toward the national debt is simply a reflection of the American people’s attitude toward spending. America has a debt crisis, but it extends far beyond the government. 

As if on queue with the announcement of the government’s credit downgrade this summer, Americans’ credit card balances have just exceeded $1 trillion for the first time. Personal household debt in the United States has now reached $17 trillion. Credit card delinquencies are the highest in 11 years. 

Even with high interest rates and inflation, the American people will chastise Congress for overspending. For example, during the debt ceiling debate earlier this year, 60% of Americans wanted raising the debt ceiling to be accompanied by spending cuts. Meanwhile, 83% of Americans overspend

It should not surprise anyone that our political class can’t, or rather, refuses, to pay the bills. In the words of the late Andrew Breitbart, “Politics is downstream of culture.” American culture glorifies displays of wealth and opulence. On the one hand, it’s a testament to the robust power of liberty in creating economic prosperity. On the other, it’s a reflection of lifestyle creep and the temptation to over-leverage in pursuit of vanity. 

The only way to change the mindset of Washington is to create a culture of fiscal responsibility and live our values with our own money. Instead of emulating performative wealth, conservatives must embrace the lifestyle that actually builds wealth. In 2018, Ramsey Solutions conducted a study of 10,000 millionaires in the US. Contrary to growing sentiment, it revealed that the American Dream is still alive and well. 79% of millionaires received zero inheritance, and many don’t even have six figure incomes. They reached the top 10% through intentional behavior with money. Millionaires live on less than they make and avoid debt.

The federal government should be heeding these lessons; instead, President Biden has been exacerbating the crisis. One year ago, Biden promised to “forgive” the federal student loans for 43 million borrowers. While this proposal was both unconstitutional and a reckless addition to the federal government’s financial death spiral, most insidiously, it was rooted in a lie that debt has no consequences. It does, though, and we are seeing those consequences today with high inflation and high interest rates. Teaching young people that personal debt does not need to be paid back will only make them support the same fiscal carelessness from the government, which is precisely what got us into this mess. 

As conservatives prepare to retake the culture, we cannot ignore the looming debt crisis. This change must start with the people. Pay off debt and keep to a budget, and only then will the government follow suit. Fiscal responsibility was emphasized by George Washington in his farewell address. It should be as American an ideal as any other, and, more importantly, it should be worth fighting for.


Russell Kitsis is a Jewish conservative student at Babson College. Russell is studying finance and hopes to work in investment banking upon graduation.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Russell Kitsis

Russell Kitsis is a Jewish conservative student at Babson College. Russell is studying finance and hopes to work in investment banking upon graduation.

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