Tyrannosaurus Debt

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

15 thoughts on “Tyrannosaurus Debt

  1. Pingback: Is it the End of the American Century? | The Social Spectator

  2. Kimberly

    Thanks for the information. I love the School House Rock series. They still use them in many schools. We should probably show this one at the PTO.


  3. Kolya

    Brilliant. It’s so important to teach our children about the right handling of finances and the dangers of debt not only to the individual, but to society.


  4. Colin

    The US debt has gone beyond the pale, and “working on it” is more of a way to get political points than it is to rein in the mounting debt. Before the debt can be fixed, there has to be some honesty in the situation by our elected officials. I’m not sure how that’s going to happen, because when we vote them out new people just like them are voted in. If we just had some honest people in office that really wanted to get things done and were willing to work in a bicameral fashion, I’m sure we could have the debt under control. Just like with a personal debt, without a plan that you stick to, there is no way to pay off a debt.


    1. Gregg Hake

      I don’t know that the American populace is ready to stomach such a fundamental change in approach so I would be surprised to see enough people voting for someone who would dare to lead in this manner. We have a history of waiting until we hit the wall before we mobilize, although I imagine a sufficient and steady dose of the right kind of education might wean people off of their addiction to debt and awaken them to the terribly negative consequences that are sure to befall a nation that fails to correct its over-consumptive habit.


  5. David R

    There have long been conspiracy theorists who warned that Americans and others around the world were being enticed into greater and greater indebtedness as the prelude to a world takeover that would enslave the population of the formerly ‘free’ world. With individuals and governments indebted beyond recall, it would just be a matter of raising interest rates or calling in the debt and voila! – world slavery.

    In actual fact, however, people have already been enslaved, by this approach to monetary management and by a hundred other approaches that give away personal responsibility. It is dramatic in this field, to be sure, and the world financial situation is a labyrinth of deception and corruption that defies any real attempt to understand or encompass.

    Money as a symbol of physical substance at all levels has been used as a means of concentrating control over people. Lured this way and that by their love of money and what they imagine it can purchase, people and nations are tethered to “the root of all evil” – not money itself but rather the love of it. As the winds of illusion and manipulation rise to hurricane levels, the only safe place is one where the sense of value and security are not tied to money. Certainly there is the need to manage money responsibly and wisely, using it as the symbol that it is and never losing sight of the solid, enduring value of a noble and generous spirit!


    1. Gregg Hake

      I’m not much of one for conspiracy theories, though I wouldn’t put it past human beings to come up with such a thing! My point is that there really is little you can do in the immediate sense about the larger problem, but personal steps taken in the right direction are always helpful in the generation of momentum, experience and perspective.


  6. Lady Leo

    Thomas Jefferson’s fear for our then fledgeling country, was that financial insolvency would be the achilles heel that left us vulnerable to be overpowered by another country. This thinking also led to Alexander Hamilton ‘s relentless aspiration, that a firm financial foundation would add to our security and was as vital as an army and navy. I think if our country is to remain a super power we need to return to the principals that created us. We are a republic, based on the free enterprise of the individual. A nation of slaves to an indentured government’s rule is a deep pit to dig out of, think of India in the 1800’s. I think we are giving away our freedoms so quickly we have’t realized the consequences we are creating for the future of this country. As I’ve read about the founding fathers of the United States of America their common concern and dedication to the future was as unselfish, loving parents. I think they would be grief stricken to see how their benificiaries are currently squandering their hard earned inheritance.
    Great post Gregg and one we are all responsible to understand.


    1. Gregg Hake

      It never ceases to amaze me how quickly people will trade freedom for security or comfort, despite the abundance of evidence that proves how foolish and ultimately self-destructive such an approach really is.


  7. Mark Miller

    You raise many essential points here. These numbers can be overwhelming, but if we each stay focused on generating more than we consume then this thing can be turned around. America has overcome extreme odds in its history. We must not fail our future.


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