In this discourse I am not going to regurgitate the same demagoguery-diatribe about leaving our children saddled with the burden of financial debt. There is something much worse: ecological calamitous acts that threaten the survival of not only humans, but all living things.
Before commentng further on this assertion let us take a look at the nature of the national debt that may be passed on to future generations. It is important that we factually put the debt phenomenon in perspective as we consider its impact in the past, at present, and what it portends for the future. Despite the current outrage of some people over the national debt it is important to recognize that this is not the first time America has been in debt. A relevant question is "When was there a time when America was not in debt?" Think about States that boast of having balance budgets while depending on the Federal Government to fund their operations.
In 1980 when President Jimmy Carter turned over the reign of government to President Ronald Reagan the gross public debt was 909.0 billion dollars (33.3% of the Gross National Product). When President Reagan left office eight years later, in 1990 the public debt was 3,206.3 billion dollars (55.5% of the GDP). During the presidency of George W. Bush, the last former president, the debt increased nearly three and a half times from what it was when President Carter left office. As noted, the 55.5% of GDP was up from 33.3% of GDP during the Carter years, an increase of 22.2% in a decade. It was President Reagan's deregulation and other economic policies instituted during his administation that favored the rich, at the expense of the poor, that accounted for the huge deficit increases. Indeed, this was a new pradigm even for Americans who were gung-ho on free market capitalism.
During the next four years the economic policies of President Reagan were maintained by President George Herbert Bush who at the time of his campaigning in the Republican primary referred to Reagan's economic platform as "voodoo economic." When President William Clinton assumed the presidency in the 1990s the national debt was 3,206.3 billion dollars (55.5% of GDP). During his presidency the debt increased to 5,769.9 billion dollars (57.4% of GDP). The year before his presidency ended the debt rose to 58.0% of GDP.
The public debt soared during the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush to 9,985.8 billion dollars (70.2% of GDP). It is worth noting that the debt increased from 909.0 billion dollars(33.3% of GDP) in 1980 during the presidency of President Carter, in less than three decades, to 9,985.8 billion dollars (70.2% of GDP) by the end of the presidency of George W. Bush which ended on January 19, 2009. This was a tenfold increase in the debt and more than a doubling of the percentage of the GDP.
America's Current Financial State On January 20, 2009 President Barack Obama was inaugurated as the forty-fourth president of the United States. He inherited the national debt in the amount of 9,985.8 billion dollars (70.2% of GDP). He also inherited a nation with financial problems greater than any that America had experienced since the Great Depression: massive housing foreclosures, an economy swiftly approaching a double digit unemployment, failing banks and other corporations, some of which were considered to be "to big to fail" meaning that if they failed the nation would plunge even further into a financial crisis and an all-time low in consumer confidence.
Faced with these conditions President Obama had no choice, if he were to be responsible, but to increase the national debt. Only the Federal Goverment had the resources and legal power to deal with these astronomical conditions. President Obama was immediately attacked by Republicans who were more interested in partisan politics than in rescuing the nation from its economic plight. They had been the chief debt-makers who created the debt by 41% and the GDP by 12.8% during the presidency of president Bush. Their demagoguery-diatribe about "the debt we are leaving to our children" is nothing more than a charade. Some Republicans even publicly expressed their desire for President Obama to fail. They were supported by their chief spokesmen who made outlandish attacks on him as expressed by Rush Limbaugh, who announced that he wants Obama to fail; Fox news spokesman Glenn Beck, who said Obama is a racist; and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who contends that there is a government program aimed at pulling the plug on Grandma. This can only mean that they want America to fail. Remember, when President Bush went to war in Iraq all Americans went to war. So if Obama fails all Americans fail. Republicans have failed to accept responsibility for the present state of the economy which they birthed.
During the presidency of Harry S. Truman, as a result of World War II and the recession that followed, in 1950 the public debt was 257.4 billion dollars (94.1% of GDP). As stated earlier, by 1980 the national debt had been reduced to 909.0 billon dollars (33.35 of GDP).
President Obama can also take some comfort in knowing that even with a huge debt, if the country experiences economic recovery that what happened to the debt after President Truman's presidency can happen again. The national debt will likely increase, maybe, to 90.0%) of GDP,as is estimated to be the case by the beginning of 2010. But just as the debt decreased from 94.1% of GDP in 1950 to 33.3% of GDP in 1980, similarly, it can decrease in 10 to 15 years from 90.% of GDP to 40% or 50% of GDP.
We Face a Moral Deficit
My fear is not with the national financial debt but with the national debt that we will leave our children. To be financially head over heels in debt or bankrupted is one thing, but to be morally bankupted is a far more serious matter. Future generations can handle the financial debt we leave with them, that is, if we don't leave them with a more weightier moral debt that money cannot buy or assuage that will make it extremely difficult for them to effectively deal with the financial debt they will inherit.
In the past Americans who inherited the moral debts left to them by their forefathers and fathers - yes, foremothers and mothers - have burdened them more than financial debts. Descendants of slave-masters and descendants of slaves have experienced the effects of the legacy of slavery that continues to pit race against race, even as many, both black and white, in earnest, seek to eliminate racial segregation discrimination, disfranchisement and injustice that is even in the courts.
America continues to practice hegemony in the twenty-first century, as evidenced in her current engagement in two wars that have claimed more than 5,000 Americns and an untold number of people who are designated by some Americans, including some in high places who hold important positions, as America's enemies, evil ones, terrorists, and so on. This practice has made Americans enemies of other nations whose children their children will be compelled to live with in a world that continues to become smaller. Yet, some American leaders have the audacity to call our engagement, without an invitation, in the affairs of other nations, "benevolent hegemony." There is no such animal!
Let us also take a serious look at what Americans have done and are doing to the environment. The environment is becoming increasingly contaminated with global warming, greenhouse gasses, deforestation, pollution of oceans, air and land. We do not know what new diseases are on the horizon. In recent years we have confronted two formidable diseases that we named AIDS and Swine Flu. Biological warfare appears to be highly probable if not imminent.
These and other things that I will not mention constitute the real debt that we are leaving to our children. It is evident that the greatest debt we are poised to leave our children is a bankrupted morality that manifests itself, even as is happening now, in violence, greed, and depravity. It is moral bankruptcy that produced the present financial debacle. Let me reiterate, it is not the financial debt that we will leave our children that disturbs me; it is the moral debt that we are likely to leave them. Americans obsession with the material, greed, war, including the "right to bear arms" mentality" that contaminate the human spirit and is moving us ever closer to the brink of "demorality," even as we continue to insist on and extol individual achievement rather than comunity which offers any hope.
There is little doubt that our children will be able to handle any financial debt we leave them, just as their parents and grandparents did after World War II, providing we do not bequeath to them the fruit and seeds that have on them our soul's code moral debt imprint which just may be too great for them to manage.
About the Author Uriah J. Fields is a clergyman, social activist and author. His latest book is "THE FIELDS SCHOOL: An African American School Without Failures." He is also author of "Inside the Montgomery Bus Boycott - My Personal Story." He attended the Fields School the first eight years of his schooling and was a leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
To obtain an autographed copy of "The Fields School: An African American School Without Failures," send $12.00 plus $3.00 for shipping (check or money order) per copy, payable to Uriah J. Fields and mail to: P. O. Box 4770, Charlottesville, VA 22905. His books can be order on line: www.amazon.com www.barnesandnoble.com www.authorhouse.com
Copyright 2009 by Uriah J. Fields