January 13, 2013

Calling it a “debt ceiling” is misleading: it’s actually a “debt sky”

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:40

In Reason, Sheldon Richman explains the absurdity of allowing governments to go this deeply into debt:

The last time the debt-ceiling controversy arose, it occurred to me that if the raising the “ceiling” is a mere formality — if in fact the sky’s the limit to government borrowing — it’s no ceiling at all. Hence, I dubbed this charade the “debt sky.”

Those who favor automatic increases in the “limit” — or no limit at all — give the game away when they argue that the borrowing authority must be increased because the full faith and credit of the United States is on the line. After all, they say, the money is needed to pay bills already incurred, not for new spending. Obama makes this claim routinely, as though the case for raising the limit is open and shut.

Who knows if that is true? But if it is, think about what it means. Congress has been incurring bills the payment of which depends on a future increase in the debt limit that theoretically could be rejected. It’s bad enough that Congress can incur financial obligations under the statutory authority to borrow; it’s intolerable that Congress can incur financial obligations based on a possible but not certain future expansion of its authority to borrow. This is truly government run amok.

You and I can’t force banks to raise our credit-card limits merely because we have bills to pay. Why should Congress be able to do the equivalent? The road to fiscal responsibility would begin with an end to this practice. Better yet, no more raising of the debt limit — cut spending and live within the current limit. And even better: No more borrowing. Government borrowing is a source of many evils, not least of which is that for decades it made big government appear cheaper than it is. Could the federal government spend nearly $4 trillion a year if it had to raise every penny through taxation? Unlikely. A tax revolt would have been ignited. But let the government borrow a trillion dollars a year, more than 40 cents of every dollar spent, and government looks relatively inexpensive — or it did before things got so out of hand that everyone could see the looming danger.

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