“It is no exaggeration to say that starting off the next generation of the next generation of families buried under debt and financial bondage to federal bankers and foreign masters, I think, is fundamentally evil for the government to do”
Personally, I don't see how anyone could seriously oppose raising the debt ceiling for the United States government, or even float the idea of not doing so as a rational possibility. Looking at the evidence, the undeniable conclusion seems to be that failing to do so would be economically disastrous, both for the United States and for the rest of the world . Most people believe that even a delay in raising the debt ceiling, the sort that seems more likely every single day as the parties continue to spar rather than negotiate on the issue, would inflict significant economic damage. Timothy Geithner has stated emphatically that he is confident that there is no way the debt ceiling will not be raised. John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives,seem to agree, stating that not raising the debt ceiling is not an option and that doing so would spell “financial disaster”.
And yet a significant element of the governing class in Washington is actively opposing what seems to be an absolute neccessity. Mostly affiliated with the the Tea Party movement, they look at this overwhelming economic evidence but then simply reject the premise that the United States government ought to be able to borrow more. They find the very idea detestable. And so the fight over the debt limit is shaping up to become an especially bitter and partisan fight in an already bitter and partisan Washington D.C. where, somewhat bizarely, the debt is becoming one of the almost cultural fault lines that often animate American politics.
Just consider how the two sides approach the question of raising the debt ceiling. In presenting the case for raising the debt ceiling, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner approaches the debt in the “normal” way, the way in which most economists would approach the question. That is to say his approach is almost entirely prudential. He warns that a failure to raise the debt ceiling would be harmful for the American economy, as it would most likely cause the United States to default on its obligations, causing a negative reaction from the international debt market and raising the interest rate that the government would have to pay on its debt. In other words, not raising the debt ceiling would be bad for the United States.
However, the approach of many on the right is a drastically different one. A number of them are approaching the national debt as a moral issue, the accumulation of which is a clear and egregious ethical failure on the part of the American government and people. For them the historic national debt that the United States has accumulated is morally and ethically suspect; for them having accrued and now wanting to increase it is a bad thing for the United States to do.
Most, perhaps even all, regligious and ethical systems frown upon debt. There is a sense that taking on debt, though acceptable in some circumstances, is a personal failiure, an attempt to live of or benefit from what one is not entitled to; and, given the many ways in which indebtedness can become painful for an individual and a family (as was discovered by a great many Americans during the so-called 'credit crunch') taking on debt is seen as a violation of one's obligations towards one's family members. Even when allowed, it is usually considered something that ought to be actively discouraged. In Islam, for instance, one is required to be debt free before making the pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the holiest and most important sacraments of that religion.
Christianity’s attitude to personal debt, ambivalent at best and outright hostile according to many interpretations, is well established in American culture. That is providing the impetus for many Evangelicals who are condemning the United States accumulation of a historic level of indebtedness as fundamentally immoral and contrary to basic tenants of the Bible .
For instance, speaking to an audience of Christian media leaders in Nashville, Speaker House John Boehner stated that the national debt was a “moral threat” to the United States, in addition to being a “mortal threat”. It is a sentiment reflected in Conservative America where, for instance, the debt is termed as “robbing from future generations”. Debt, it is argued, “just eats you alive”.
For many in the Republican party, this condemnation of the debt is perhaps a tactical choice as it appeals to both fiscal hawks and religious conservatives, two core constituencies. But for some, particularly elements of the Tea Party, seem to be much more sincerely committed to this notion. For instance Michelle Bachmann, Chairwoman of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress, voted against the compromise budget bill that averted a government shutdown because it did not do enough to reduce America’s deficit and its indebtedness; for her, any compromise on this issue was a tragic failure, often a clear sign of a moral flashpoint. In a petition against raising the debt ceiling, she calls on Congress to stop spending “cold turkey”, as if it’s some sort of substance addiction. And, most dramatically and indicatively, she calls on Americans to replicate the courage of those who fought at Iwo Jima in the current debt crisis and she and her allies fight for the liberty and the glory of the United States. When a conservative American uses a World War II allegory, you know its something they take very very seriously.
There is almost universal consensus that a failure to raise the debt ceiling and a default by the United States on its credit obligations would be catastrophic. I doubt I could take seriously anyone arguing something different based on the evidence.
But the United States is a representative democracy and one in which the moralistic and personified approach of the right wing has far deeper resonance than any economic evidence ever could. There is little political incentive for Bachmann and her allies in the Tea Party to vote for a raise in the debt ceiling and there seems to be even less personal inclination on their part to approach the question prudentially. For them the vote on whether to raise the debt ceiling vote is not about economics, maybe not even about politics. It is a question of identity, one in which their vision of America and its status as a moral and virtuous nation is at stake. And given the hold they have over the Republican Party and the hold that party currently has on the House of Representatives, there is every reason to be afraid of the United States pushing itself and the rest of the world into a deep and painful recession.
(Originally published on my blog: http://cogitations-waleed.blogspot.com/)