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Borrowing money with no intention of paying it back

Michael Swickard

So here is a deal: I borrow money from you and do not pay you back ever. Do you want to hear the details of this amazing offer? I take the money you give me without ever paying it back to you. Do we have a deal? Why not?

That is the negotiation of our “me” government. They will not even talk about paying off the national debt. On the personal level many borrow all they can and then attempt to not repay their debt.

This is the official American attitude on borrowing and paying back. It has been this way for 50 years. Citizens run up debts and then use the government to keep from having to pay back the money. We have many people in financial default by choice. Importantly, many people want our country to default the national debt rather than pay it back.

This “me” generation runs the government, a government that has been borrowing money from its citizens and from other foreign nations for 50 years. From the first loan of money to our country it has been obvious our country has had no intention of paying any of the money back. If during one year or even a couple of years we said we had too much need to repay the debt, no problem.

After 50 years of not even talking about paying back the national debt, it is obvious that there is no political will to ever pay back the national debt. At least not from the elected officials we now have in Congress.

The problem

As incredible as it seems given how much money our country has borrowed in the last 20 years, can you find any politician talking about paying the borrowed money back? Me neither. No president after Eisenhower has seriously thought about paying back the money borrowed by our country. Our leaders cannot even balance our books. So why indeed should they talk about repaying the borrowed money?


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The problem is that nations are getting wise to us not intending to pay their loan money back. Our country raises money for our treasury by offering T-bills. In the last couple of years there have been fewer buyers, if any. So we, ourselves are buying our own T-bills as if another country bought them, and then saying we have more money. We are in effect writing ourselves a check and proclaiming that we now have more money.

We Americans find ourselves in a situation that would have been beyond belief to my grandparents. As a nation we Americans have spent 50 years spending more money than we have. Every year we have done so. With each passing year it seems to get easier to forget that borrowed money should be paid back.

Little by little we have pushed the national debt further and further. In the last three years this national debt has jumped upwards to unsustainable amounts. Do we think our debtors will just forget and forgive that money? Doubtful.

Looking surprised

You might be tempted to scoff that no one would expect to borrow forever with never any money being paid back to those who loaned us, the United States, the money. But it is true. In fact, no payback is a staple of American life these days. Individually, for most of 50 years, there has been a great push for citizens to just bankrupt out of debts rather than pay them back, with no one thinking that action is wrong except those persons owed money.

In the housing market there is a big push by our government to let people who cannot or will not pay their mortgage to just keep the house and not pay the money owed on it. This attitude gets lots of cheers from everyone except the person who holds the note on the aforementioned house.

Ultimately, borrowing without paying back does not work. Everyone knows it, yet no one can stop borrowing since they do not know any other way to operate. There is one thing to do. At the mirror each day practice looking surprised. “Oh, my goodness, what happened?” It will not change what happens financially to our nation, but at least you can look surprised.

Swickard is co-host of the radio talk show News New Mexico, which airs from 6 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on KSNM-AM 570 in Las Cruces and throughout the state through streaming. His e-mail address is michael@swickard.com.

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6 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. As artiofab pointed out, the Clinton/Gore administration ran the leanest budget in the last ~ 50 years. If Gore had won in 2000, quite likely he would have continued to pay down the national debt, and it was estimated that by 2013 we would have ZERO national debt. John King wrote for CNN on 5-1-08:

    “WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Bill Clinton said Monday that the United States would pay off $216 billion in debt this year [THIS was the surplus--EW], bringing to $355 billion the amount of the nation’s debt paid down in the three years since the government balanced the budget and began running surpluses.

    In a written statement, Clinton said the $216 billion payment represented the largest debt paydown in American history, and he said that the federal government’s long-term debt is now $2.4 trillion
    lower than projected to be when he first took office. However, the U.S. government still has a long way to go before it pays down the entire national debt, which now stands at $5.7 trillion. [This is the DEBT, not the surplus.]

    ‘We should take advantage of this historic opportunity to use the benefits of debt reduction to extend the life of Social Security and Medicare and pay off the entire national debt by 2013 for the first
    time since Andrew Jackson was president,’ Clinton said.”

    Swickard just does the usual Republican spin…

  2. Swickard missed any mention of banks, insurance companies etc., who fleeced thousands of Americans on mortgage deals and then had to be helped by the taxpayer. How do these wealthy crooks get paid back for ruining lives and nearly bringing the country to its knees? They keep their homes, their bonuses, their jobs, their drugs and their women. Some payback!

  3. Interesting….thought-provoking……..I do see big trouble ahead
    U should send your column to the know-it-all LC Wizard before u send it to Heath……On the other hand, I think he has his criticism ready before u even send it……El Grique, as we say in Spanish, should be weighing in with his omniscience any second now……

  4. Here we go again. Swickard tries to strike a moderate message, but once again flaks for the tea party – gop position. He says that American must pay its bills and make good on its obligations, yet not once does he say we must raise the debt ceiling so that we can not default on these same debt payments that he pretends to be so concerned about. Not once. Becasue of course raising the debt ceiling is not fashionable with his tea party far right GOP target audience. But who does Swickard use to make his final argument for potentially getting unwaranted government help – homeowners. He doesnt mention the wall street banks..he does not mention the uberwealthy and coroporate pork that helped create our national debt (becasue of course that too is unfashionable with his base who has gone to the mat for these entities)…He goes after Joe middleclass homeowner. How very classist cliche tea party of you Mr. Swickard. What else is new. Again Heath, why not send an invoice to the GOP or perhaps the Las Cruces Tea Party (shop local!) for this guys blatant right wing message machine that you afford him…That would be a heck of a lot more transparent and honest than the propaganda he writes.

  5. If repetition makes something true, Swickard’s point is unquestionably true.

    According to Swickard, the problem arose in 1961, when Eisenhower left office.

    Democrats Kennedy and Johnson: 1961-1969 (8 years)

    Republicans Nixon and Ford: 1969-1977 (8 years)

    Democrat Carter: 1977-1981 (4 years)

    Republicans Reagan and Bush 41: 1981-1993 (12 years)

    Democrat Clinton: 1993-2001 (8 years)

    Republican Bush 43: 2001-2009 (8 years)

    Democrat Obama: 2009 and counting (2 years)

    DEMOCRATS: 22 years

    REPUBLICANS: 28 years

    More years and bigger run-ups under Republicans than Democrats. Reagan and Bush 43 tax cuts dramatically increased debt, far more than previous administrations. Clinton passed along a surplus to Bush which, if continued, would have reduced the national deficit. Bush Republicans supported and handed off to Obama the TARP bailout, and Republicans forced Obama to extend Bush tax cuts.

    Bottom line: Swickard does not say so, but he really attacks Republicans as budget busters and debt defiers.

    BTW, with the yield on T-notes low, buyers obviously trust to repayment, which continues to occur when the notes comes due and the Treasurey repays them.

    Michael, what the heck are you talking about? Are you overdue on your weekly reality check-up?

  6. Um. Fiscal year 1999 called. You might have heard of it, it was a federal budget that actually had a surplus?

    But, um, yeah, other than that, totally nobody in the past 50 years has tried to balance the budget. Good observations.

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