Evan Stern: The serious crisis nobody is talking about

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 - 2:46pm

Quote from article

Quote from article Buy this photo
-

At the end of July in downtown Detroit, the crowded Democratic field of presidential candidates took the stage at the Fox Theatre in the midst of what could be another severely divisive election cycle in America. 

Discussing some of the most pressing matters across our nation in an effort to ultimately take the White House from President Donald Trump in 2020, the candidates blasted each other, as well as the current and former presidents on a wide range of controversial issues, especially stressing immigration, climate change, healthcare, gun violence and criminal justice. 

But the truth is that virtually all American politicians are disregarding an issue that could be the most serious threat to this nation’s survival: our staggering national debt. 

Conservative or liberal, we should all be alarmed by this deepening crisis. Currently standing at over $22 trillion and growing with no end in sight, our debt is continuously forcing our country further into a hole that could one day be inescapable. 

Unfortunately, politicians for decades have determined that combating this financial catastrophe is not worth the political price of being voted out of office, deciding instead that their careers take precedence over our country’s future. 

The blame should not be placed on any one party. While our federal government did achieve a surplus during the Clinton administration when there was more support for measures aimed at cutting back the debt, we have since then experienced immense irresponsibility, making our nation more vulnerable with each passing year.

Under President George W. Bush, the national debt rose $5.8 trillion, more than doubling. The problem continued under President Barack Obama, with the figure growing by a shocking $8.6 trillion during his two terms as he was forced to deal with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, leading him to increase government spending to stop the economy from sinking further into recession. And, should President Trump remain in the Oval Office until 2025, he is expected to contribute a disturbing $9.1 trillion.

The truth is that while these developments are dangerous for everybody, the future is looking the worst for young people who will have to bear the brunt of this economic crisis if politicians fail to act now. 

Without proper and effective bipartisan action on this issue, we are set on a course to economic and social unrest that will spell disaster, especially for millennials and Generation Z. As the debt continues on its alarming climb, the large figure will ultimately drive interest rates to high, unhealthy levels as other nations — which already own much of America’s debt — will require more persuasion to invest in our fiscally irresponsible nation. 

In response to rising rates — which will dramatically discourage business investment, slow our economy and lead to lower wages — the federal government will be forced to subsidize the heavy cost of the interest by cutting spending, especially through a reduction in social programs such as Social Security and Medicare. With a decrease in social aid programs, our country could be plagued by turmoil and riots as everyday citizens become unable to put food on the table for their families. Still, even after making these significant cuts, the government will also likely need to sharply raise taxes, which again will steer our country toward a severe economic downturn. 

That is not all. In a scenario that becomes more probable as this harsh reality worsens, our government, in the face of uncontrollable debt, could even fail to pay back some of its debt, precipitating a worldwide depression and calling into question the survival of this nation itself.

Putting this aside, we have much to worry about. In the midst of such dangerous fiscal conditions, it is only a matter of time before our government may become unable to borrow effectively in order to solve situations currently posing a threat to our nation, including war, public health crises and natural disasters. As the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget states, “Governments often borrow to address unexpected events... This is relatively easy to do when the federal debt is small. However, with a large and growing federal debt, government has fewer options available.” The speed and efficiency with which our government is routinely able to respond to society’s needs, which is taken for granted now, will undoubtedly become challenging to maintain under these circumstances. 

Even our national security is threatened by our debt crisis. In February of this year, a bill was introduced in Congress to officially consider the debt a danger to our national security. “If we do not change our course, we will be responsible for one of the (worst) catastrophes this nation has ever experienced: the crash of the American economy and the demise of a superpower,” Congressman Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a bill co-sponsor, said in a statementTruthfully, we are in trouble. Our politicians have kicked the can down the road for years, passing this crisis on to the next generation. They have greatly feared the political price of attempting to address this issue, but we can no longer ignore this glaring problem. We must all, regardless of political affiliation, begin to make difficult choices that will require strength and compromise, resulting in a better future for generations to come. 

Whether we raise taxes, cut spending, or both, we must remember what is at stake, set aside our differences and act with a purpose. We owe it to ourselves, our children and our nation. We have an obligation to act immediately. 

Evan Stern can be reached at erstern@umich.edu.