Wednesday, September 28, 2005

National Debt

Are you the type of person who gets furious when you hear about an adult abusing or neglecting children? Then, the rising national deficit is something that you should be paying attention to.

Let us imagine a pair of new parents.

They bring their child home from the hospital, place it in its room, then begin filling out credit cards in the child's name. They use these credit cards to buy vacations, electronic equipment, seats at their favorite sporting events, and the like. When the child gets to be 18 years old, the parents give the bills to the child.

These are not good, morally responsible parents. These parents have clearly abused their responsibility to care for the child. Instead of providing the child with what he or she needed for a good life, the parents mortgaged that child's life for their own pleasure.

For all practical purposes, they enslaved the child. They took for themselves the fruits of that child's future labors. So, the child will become an adult that will have a job, where a portion of those wages will be taken from him, and handed over to those who lent his parents money.

The National Deficit works much like this. The present generation spends the money, running up a tab that is then handed to the future generation.

If the present generation spends $1 more than it makes, then some future generation is going to have to make $1 (plus interest) more than spends. The future generation cannot spend that money on their own goals and projects. They have to use the money they make to pay for their parent's expenses.

No Taxation without Representation

In politics, whenever it is possible to tax a group who does not have the option to vote those imposing the tax out of office, there is a risk of exploitation. Representatives simply have no incentive other than their own personal values to stop them from taxing those who cannot vote. Those same representatives have every incentive to provide benefits to those who can vote -- effectively purchasing those votes with government pork.

This is precisely the mechanism that drives the national debt. Politicians who raise the debt are effectively raising taxes on those who do not vote -- future generations who cannot get to the polls. They are using the money to purchase the votes of those who can get to the polls -- today's voters. The net effect is a massive wealth-transfer scheme from those who cannot vote to those who can.

The overall effect is that the tax burden goes up on those who cannot vote, as that wealth gets transferred to those who can. Much like the policy of taxing America to benefit England, our country has adopted a policy of taxing the children to benefit the adults.

Repaying Debts

In addition to the basic moral wrong of robbing our own children for our benefit, we must consider the basic obligation to pay debts. On September 24th, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan met with the Finance Minister of France, Thierry Breton. According to Bretin, Greenspan had said, “We’ve lost control of the budget.”

It is not clear exactly what Greenspan meant by this. Yet, it is clearly the case that this is as much a moral failing as it is a failure in economic policy. Our political leaders have an obligation to keep our budget in control. If Greenspan is correct, our political leaders have abdicated on an important moral responsibility.

There is no law of nature that says that American cannot drive itself into economic ruin. There is no law of nature that says that, no matter how much debt we pile onto our children and their children, that they will be able and willing to pay that debt. Immoral acts are immoral precisely because of the destruction they cause to other peoples’ lives. Living beyond our means is immoral precisely because of the disadvantages we force on children who are unable to give informed consent as to whether to accept those burdens.


There are some things for which a deficit makes sense. If a community is building a road, the present community will have to suffer through the costs, while future generations enjoy the benefits. It seems fair to have future generations pay for the road. Therefore, a bond issue or some sort of debt to pay for the road seems appropriate.

When a nation goes to war, this is another case in which a current generation makes a noble sacrifice for which future generations will obtain a benefit. Those future generations cannot share the risks of life and limb that the current generation must endure. They can, however, share a part of the financial burden. It is not unfair to ask them to do so by having them pay back war bonds and other forms of debt.

Also, if professional economists say that a debt is useful to restore a battered economy, I am not going to argue against that professional. If a leader has assigned experts in a subject to give him advice, then he would be negligent in his responsibility if he did not consider the advice of those experts.

All of these cases ultimately follow the same moral principle. Future generations should shoulder some of the burden for things that benefit them.

However, the present generation has a responsibility to determine if future generations will benefit. If the present generation is wrong, then it is the present generation -- not the future generation -- that should pay for the mistake.

The "benefits" that were promised from an attack on Iraq -- to secure weapons of mass destruction and to weaken anti-American terrorists -- have not materialized. Evidence suggests that the current generation has made the lives of future generations of Americans less secure, for which we are also sending them the bill for our service.

In this case, the expenses are hardly justified. The expense mostly took the form of tax cuts for the rich. This means that it actually did go to buying vacations, cars, and other expensive personal equipment. It also went to a war that, it appears, will not provide future generations with any benefit.


This particular wrong is different from many of the others I have spoken of. The other wrongs have victims in the hear and now – victims who are capable of getting angry and taking action to make sure that these wrongs are made right. However, the victims of deficit spending are not able to defend themselves. They’re out on the playgrounds in the nation’s schools or sitting in front of the television watching cartoons. They are trying to get up the nerve to ask Suzie out on a date, or they are not even born yet.

They cannot take care of themselves. They do not know what they need to do to protect their own future, so they count on us to take care of these things for them. They count on us to make sure that they eat well, exercise, do their homework, wash their hands, get inoculated from disease.

In all of this, there should be room somewhere for an obligation not to steal their money – the money they will be making once they grow old enough to get a job. People not willing to live up to this obligation are no better than those parents who inflict abuse and neglect on their children.

Are you the type of person who gets furious when you hear about an adult abusing or neglecting children? Then, the rising national deficit is something that you should be paying attention to.


Alonzo Fyfe said...

On what basis do you assume fear?

Throughout my childhood, and through my study of philosophy, I have had a chance to examine the options. I find them wanting.

I have placed some of my most significant reasons for viewing religious ethics as unreliable in "Desire Utilitarianism: Chapter 1".

Alonzo Fyfe said...

David: A few items.

(1) I have found that there is little to be gained in a debate with somebody who begins by saying, "My ultimate premise is that I am correct and you are wrong." Inevitably, any evidence of error falls victim to the first premise. "Your argument implies that I am wrong. That contradicts the First Premise. Therefore, your argument must be rejected." This does not tend to lend itself to fruitful discussion.

(2) Your "blunt assessment" as to why I do not believe in God suffers from a logical error. My belief that no God exists was the cause of the abuse, therefore it is not possible that the abuse was the cause of my belief that no God exists.

(3) I do not care whether God exists. I believe that there is no God, but I do not care if I am right or wrong -- just as I believe that dinosaurs were warm blooded, though I do not care if I am mistaken.

What I do care about is making the world a better place. The articles that I write about here all are about what a "better place" would look like. It is a place in which:

• The present generation does not rob from or enslave future generations through deficit spending.

• No person calls for the eradication of a peaceful neighbor based on religious beliefs.

• People are more opposed to terrorism than they are to those fighting to stop terrorism.

• Military leaders accept responsibility for their failures rather than hide behind the soldiers and say, "If you criticize me you are belittling the troops that I command."

• We consider the welfare of the children of Iraq when forming our plans regarding that country.

• People do not use blind natural disasters as a tool for promoting hatred, intolerance, and fear.

• Journalists and researchers learn the differences between good arguments and bad arguments, promote the former, and discourage the latter.

Among others.

These things will make the world better than it would have otherwise been -- regardless of whether or not God exists.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Item 1: The fact that others disagree with me is not a problem, unless the disagreement actually causes them to make the world a worse place.

I believe that murder is wrong because a universal aversion to murder will generally make peoples' lives better off. Somebody else believes that murder is wrong because God says, "Thou shalt not murder." I do not care which view an individual adopts. As long as they do not murder, I do not care about their beliefs.

On the other hand, if there is somebody who thinks that God commands him to murder, then we will have a disagreement. That disagreement springs from his false beliefs about the wrongness of murder.

Item 2: I once burned my hand fairly badly. When I did, it mattered. I did not need to believe in God for this to matter. It was painful, and all that mattered.

If somebody had written to me, "If you are a purposeless creature created by chance... what do you care?" My answer would be, "It hurts! I care!" That is quite sufficient. No God is needed.

It also hurts to see other people suffering or treated unjustly. So, just as I protect my hand from getting burned again, I do what I can to protect others from harm or unjust treatment. Again, no God is required.

Ethics (morality) is much more complex than this. I have written a lot about this in the book that I cited above. What I have written above is not a complete formula for right and wrong, but it explains the fact that the foundation of morality no more needs a belief in God than an aversion to pain needs a belief in God.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

I can illustrate the logic of my position by the fact that none of this has relevance to the issue of whether it is permissible to rob from our children and future generations. Since it is not relevant to the morality of this type of behavior, why do I need to consider it?

You may wonder how it is that I have a consideration for future generations given that I do not believe in God. I will leave it to you to wonder that.

While we debate the existence of God, future generations continue to be the victim of this intergenerational theft. I am more interested in solving a moral crime than debating the existence of God.

soihgior44 said...

What is ‘God’? Do you have a definition? And what do you think an atheist is?

Your reasoning is completely illogical.
Would you care to show us your logic over at ?

These are men who started out as atheists with the same "quest" and turned out making the world a better place... as Christians.
You seem very hostile. Is your religion about anger? Both men are liars. They were never atheists.

If you would just go deeper below your surfacy words, you would, hopefully, realize the absurdity of your statements.
Well now, this pretty much sums up the reasoning abilities of theists, ad hominems and ranting.

If you are truly on a quest for meaning or to make a difference, than you are obligated to have to explore every angle to its "rock bottom" in order to be someone who is considered credible.
If you had explored your Jesus to its “rock bottom”, you would have discovered that there is no verifiable proof that he ever existed.

You can go as far back…blah blah blah.
Then who made god?

soihgior44 said...

david, is a discussion group with 1000’s of members, many of whom believe in god.
I didn’t see anything about archeology. What archeologists are you talking about?

Anonymous said...

David --

You are arguing by assertion. You assert that this or that is true, but you've spent little effort supporting your claims, except to say, "Read 'Mere Christianity'."

Alfonso, on the other hand, gave you a reason for being concerned with morals: it hurts to see people harmed. I'd supply another: a society where there are rules of conduct is a safer society for me to live in.

You reply that Alfonso is being illogical, then assert that without God, there is no reason for morality.

You've asserted a lot of other stuff as well -- too much to respond to.

Why don't you focus on a small topic and explore it in detail? How about: what is the basis for morality? Go ahead and make an assertion about it, but then, please, provide a reason for believing it to be true.

Anonymous said...

The extreme polarity of such topics is what primarily keeps people from coming to any common ground of agreement and maybe even relegates it to a pointless exercise. Since no one knows everything there is to know, it comes as the epitome of arrogance for anyone to assert that they have a monopoly on truth, of whatever description. The best and most honest thing anyone can state is that they believe "such and such" and state their reasons for such. No one wins for there seems to be no flawless authority to make that determination. All religious and philosophical debate is founded on subjective interpretation of some knowledge. These dabtes have been going on for millenia by persons wholly more studied than I ever will be, and yet, even they cannot agree amongst themselves and have in fact made war upon the other because of their irreconcilable differences.
Most of our beliefs are fear-based. Fear of being all alone and mortal in this universe is scary enough especially as one ages, so it brings some comfort to believe that after this life of suffrage there will be a happy place for all eternity. Fear of death is a powerful motivator to believe in something outside the here and now and the pain.
Before Christianity raised its hand to be counted, other religions, cults, beliefs etc existed. Animists, spiritualists, naturists, polytheists abounded and there were even peoples without religion. They did not need religion to tell them that if they behaved negatively towards others, it may result in a negative response from the other. Morality was not born of Christianity. Horrors committed by atheists, pagans or religious zealots were still atrocities. Committing genocide in a particular deity's name does not lessen the crime of it, nor did we need a religious belief to know that genocide is a moral crime. The historical hypocrisy of those claiming to be doing god's work while simultaneously eradicating a particlaur people from the earth perhaps is what gave rise to skepticism of the non-believer or doubter in the first place.
I believe, that we all search for something, likely peace and peace of mind and we find it where we find it. Most of us do not examine why we believe what we believe in any critical manner because of the risk of finding out we were wrong.
To remove someone's belief in whatever, if it adds to that person's insecurity, will likely not happen by the mere expression of logic-based juxtapositions. So why bother?
Sooner or later, no matter how civil a debate on this topic begins, it will implode into language that is more insulting, accusatory or just simply impolite because the very inaccuracy and complexity of our language does us an injustice in communicating effectively and only frustration emerges. If listening to two theists argue about some point of religiosity cannot seem to be successsfully concluded, I can't imagine how anyone could expect any kind of agreement between a person who believes in an omnipotent, omniscient absolute being and one who doesn't knowing that both parties do not know all there is to know.
Atheists and religionists alike have shamed themselves historically by their actions.
Much of our posturing in this topic comes from a rather high opinion of ourselves as a species. Is mankind the highest order of life on this planet? Religionists and atheist may agree on that point simply judging by our daily arrogant behaviour on this earth, but I offer this. If mankind were to disappear from this planet and exist on some space station, having nothing to do with the earth, I am confident that the earth would eventually cleanse itself of our influence and carry on as if our existence was more that of a tick on a dog's ear. But if mankind stays on this earth and all bacteria suddenly vanished, nothing would exist. All life would die on the earth. So there but for the existence of bacteria go humans. Perhaps we should just think on that for a while and maybe then we'd see how important we really are. I know, I know, did God create the bacteria or did they evolve and if so blah blah blah...............!
God, if She does exist, has a warped sense of humour.

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