My sons and I were enjoying a few of the Schoolhouse Rock animated educational motion films yesterday and we came across one that I hadn’t heard during my cartoon watching years as it was one of the later releases of the series. Entitled “Tyrannosaurus Debt,” this episode focused on the catastrophic consequences of fiscal irresponsibility, with an emphasis on the budget deficit.
Americans have become addicted to debt. The total public debt outstanding when “Tyrannosaurus Debt” was released in 1996 was $5.323 trillion. At the end of December 2010 it was $14.025 trillion. To get an idea of just how far into debt we now are as a nation, take a peek at the staggering tallies on this website.
Unfortunately, Americans at the same time have lost sight of the fact that when you run up debt you give to another power over your liberty. My mother-in-law (yes I did mention her in the same paragraph as losing power over my liberty) gave me a copy of Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language which was first printed in 1828. I love comparing the century old definitions to our common ones and I looked up the word “slavery” as I recall hearing in Social Studies that debtors were often placed in actual physical bondage back in the day, unlike our present system which results in people being in an informal or virtual bondage.
Here’s what Webster had to say 83 years ago:
SLA’VERY, n. Bondage; the state of entire subjection of one person to the will of another. Slavery is the obligation to labor for the benefit of the master, without the contract or consent of the servant. Slavery may proceed from crimes, captivity or from debt.
One form of slavery is that of succumbing to the bondage of debt! While borrowing is a valuable tool in times of crisis, it is a temporary crutch that should be repaid as quickly as possible once the emergency passes. The failure to do so is likely to result in a sustained period of mounting debt which not only becomes increasingly costly to support, but it is also demoralizing for those caught within its unforgiving claws.
Debt is like a cancer which, left unchecked may metastasize and debilitate other parts of the body. In the case of the individual, heavy debt opens the door to fear, paralysis and hesitation. It becomes a unrelenting burden that conditions every thought, every action and the individual often passes on opportunities that he would otherwise seize upon were he less weighed down or threatened by the prospect of implosion at every turn.
The same, I imagine, is true for a nation, although it seems that when addictions such as this become epidemic it becomes harder and harder to see it in context. When everyone, or most everyone is doing it, it is hard to get enough perspective on the matter to determine (1) there is a problem and (2) there is another way to live. Nevertheless, the problems of the individual, when common to a sufficient number in a nation for instance, are the problems of the whole.
No matter how many people have drunk of this vitiating wine of wrath, it eventually becomes a blight to man’s pursuit of happiness. Borrowing does provide certain advantages, when used properly and occasionally. But to borrow for the sole purpose of living beyond one’s means and in order to spend extravagantly is not unlike addiction to meth. The addiction begins eating away at the host and at a certain point the host has to separate himself from the poison or he eventually finds himself suffering a slow and painful existence as its slave.
The debts of a nation are no different than the debts of an individual and I cannot understand why the leaders we have put into office fail to treat it as such. Cannot the debts of each generation be paid within the generation? It is unconscionable that we would pass on such enormous piles of debt to future generations.
Each one must get his own house in order in order to contribute to the debate. The recent economic recession has put many small business owners and individuals in a precarious position where they were forced to take on more debt than they would outside of an emergency situation. And each one must chart his course to navigate back to safe harbor. The teapot far too often calls the kettle black in our country and we must remember that “We the People” are you and me and that “We the People” have an obligation to deliver a more perfect union to the generations which will follow in our footsteps so that they too can enjoy life as free people.
“I, however, place economy among the first and most important republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.” ~ Thomas Jefferson