Louis XV of France is believed to have coined the expression “Apres moi le deluge” (“after me the flood”) to signify his nation’s calamitous future following him. All caused by war and crippling debt and assorted neglect and an excess of bad leadership and thoughtless and destructive government policies.
Are we there yet? Recently, the federal government agreed to continue bankruptcy borrowing at a super sonic rate: $1 trillion of new debt in 2018 and $1 trillion of new debt in 2019.
Republicans want guns. Democrats want butter. They will have both and back-breaking debt to carry both.
Recall that from the administration of George Washington to the start of that of George W. Bush, the nation’s accumulated debt was $5 trillion.
The younger Bush nearly doubled it. Obama doubled it again, and Trump is on autopilot with a spending binge to double it again.
I was a member of the national debt and deficit task force led by the late Alice Rivlin and the late Pete Domenici. I came from the culture of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, where balanced or near-balanced budgets were the agreed goal of both parties.
The goal line may have kept moving, but there was still a goal line. You don’t spend more than you made. You saved for a rainy day. The night belongs to the sleepless and the drunks. The day belongs to the mature and to the builders.
Has all of this government excess changed the public culture, as well?
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that consumer debt, not including home mortgages, has climbed to $4 trillion, higher than it has ever been, adjusted for inflation. Student loan debt exploded 49% to $1.3 trillion. Auto debt is up 40%. Credit card debt is up, as well, with the average household owing $8,390.
What does this all mean?
It means that traditional views of investing and saving and living within one’s means are out of fashion. In government, it means that since everyone now basically wants free stuff, they’ll get it.
Easy deficits and low interest rates cause a loss of religion. Few are believers any more. Deficit hawks have gone the way of the whooping crane. No longer are you expected to spend only that which you have and to put money aside for a rainy day.
Today, anything goes, which means fiscal prudence is the first to go.
The Republicans got their guns. The Democrats got their butter. And the public at large became consumed by debt and deficits. And much of it for items that have little or no long-term or residual value.
It is the new religion. Our neighbors are good learners. Their leaders say that living within one’s means is passé and old fashioned. The public nods. And clap their hands. A new faith is launched. The country crumbles.
How can we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to ourselves? I suspect that board games and 300 cable channels and social media play a role. But the end is the same no matter what the religion.
When the music stops, there is no more dancing.
Planning the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre history center
Frank Keating was governor of Oklahoma 1995-2003.