What do the numbers 2 trillion, 2.1 trillion, 326 billion and 388 billion all have in common? That’s right, they’re all the total numbers of debt of European countries, namely (and in that order), Germany, France, Greece and Belgium.
The debt of just these four countries combined is the equivalent of 137,000 tons of gold. These amounts have stacked up because politicians have, over decades, acted as irresponsible as they possibly could: overspending on public infrastructure, bailing out failing banks, financing endless warfare. At this point, the interest on European debt is so high that it has become a challenge in itself: we’re creating more debt just to pay off interests.
I’ll leave the question of were this will leave us to economists who make these sort of projections. If we’re going to last 10, 15 or 20 more years is not even the important question, because by the time a country defaults we’ll have another population ready to let politicians rack up even more debt. The important question we need to ask first is: Is it fair?
Former US Congressman Ron Paul used to explain very well that government spending in itself is a tax. “Sometimes we increase taxes, sometimes we borrow the money, sometimes we print the money”. The mere act of borrowing is the promise of future tax increases of the printing of money. Ron Paul said the same thing about deficit spending:
“Deficits mean future tax increases, pure and simple. Deficit spending should be viewed as a tax on future generations, and politicians who create deficits should be exposed as tax hikers.”
As this will be put as a burden on future generations, we are making promises that we will not have to keep within our lifetime. That is as sensical as if you were to promise yourself to run a marathon, and effectively meant that your child will run it for you.
In Germany, the government instituted the so-called “Schuldenbremse” in 2011. This constitutional measure required the federal government and the 16 federal states to consequentially reduce deficit spending. Bringing in the constitutional court on every occasion that politicians behaved irresponsibly actually had positive effects: government debt to GDP is constantly falling.
Maybe this is related to the fact that in German, the word for debt, “Schuld”, is the same word used to say “guilt”. Considering how many billions of euros of obligations we are putting on future generations, maybe it would indeed be wise to start feeling some guilt.