- There is no practical limit to which politicians are allowed to take us into debt.
- Politicians, donkeys and elephants both, live to look like they are doing something, because that's what gets votes. Actually doing something is ok, but only if it happens to also look like you are doing something. (In real life, it works the other way around, of course.)
Hence: Taking the country into debt is an easy way for politicians to look like they are doing something, without doing something. Paying off debt is politically pointless because it gets no headlines.
Aside: Incurring debt is not a solution, it is the absence of a solution. The larger the debt a politician (or anybody) proposes incurring, the greater his (or her) admission that he (or she) has no actual ideas.
Conclusion: As long as these two conditions exist, the national debt will continue to grow.
Changing condition 1 (ie making and sticking to a balanced national budget) is impossible because (see condition 2) that would be doing something, but it's not flashy. Changing condition 2 would mean essentially that people in general get smarter, and start seeing through politicians' flashiness and begin voting for the guy who does stuff rather than the guy who only looks busy. Here's hoping!
Meanwhile: I'm a banker (pretend with me). I have two business propositions put to me. One comes from an old man who assures me that if I buy a handful of his magical beans, and plant them in the ground, overnight they will grow into a giant beanstalk that reaches the sky. The other comes from the US government promising me that if I give them some money, someday they will pay me back. I'm going to laugh in the US Government's face, throw it out on his ear, and buy the beans. At least then I've got some beans. In the other case, Jesus will come back long before any of that money does. Elvis will be back sooner.
That's the practical limit to how large the national debt can get- till it gets so large that nobody will lend us money any more. Till the US dollar is a world wide joke.
Here's the thing: Congress has a credit card with no limit and nobody's name on the billing address. Well, the name is : We the People, but that is close enough to Everybody as to mean Nobody.
A Few Solutions:
Simplify the tax code so that even a baby can understand it. Make it a flat percentage. And then, every time a senator suggests we spend some money that we don't have, require that senator do the math in public, and then let his proposal include the dollar amount it would tack onto next year's taxes, and so that everyone can see exactly what percentage of their money that senator is wanting next year.
Every time we bail some other country out from under a dictator or a natural disaster, afterwards we hand them a bill for however much it cost us. "What, they don't have the money?" Fine. We sell them a hunk of our national debt instead. We can be more charitable when we have some money to be charitable with. Right now, and for the foreseeable future we are worse than broke- we are in the hole.
Every time a convict leaves jail, he gets a bill as he leaves: the exact cost of his trial and incarceration. Then we garnish his wages until we have the money.
Government welfare programs? Those problems are best handled locally. Make that exclusively the province of the states. If the states are smart they will make welfare almost exclusively the problem of the counties. Get it all done close to home, so that when A takes B's money to give it to C, B can see how much of the money C actually gets C gets and what C does with it.
The problem with these type of solutions is that they are all doing something, and are not glamorous or flashy. They require the support of a smart voting populous. So I wrote this, hoping to contribute, in my small way, to our collective smartness.