Can America afford to be great anymore? Many say, “no”

A friend posted this on Facebook:

“As of today our total national debt is roughly $17 1/2 trillion. Of that number nearly $12 1/2 trillion is publicly owed. Can you even get your mind around it?”

To which I responded:

As a portion of GDP, our national debt was much greater in 1946.

So, the Congress did what it had to do.

Congress borrowed money to educate millions of returning veterans, and to subsidize their homes. The greatest education aid and housing aid programs in history, both in the GI Bill.

Poster honoring the Marshall Plan, to rebuild Europe after World War II -- on borrowed money.

Poster honoring the Marshall Plan, to rebuild Europe after World War II — on borrowed money.

Congress borrowed money to give it away to our allies in World War II, to rebuild their industrial capabilities, on the assumption that an ally with a strong industrial base and good economy is stronger, and can come to our aid if and when we need it.

Congress borrowed money to give it away to our enemies in World War II, to rebuild their industrial capabilities, because a nation with a good economy and health trade tends to stay out of war. Those nations became our allies.

Congress borrowed to build the greatest road system in history, connecting nearly every corner of America — under the pretense that such a road system would allow us to move troops and armaments quickly from coast to coast in event of a defense emergency.

Congress borrowed to finance space exploration, to go to the Moonbecause, you know, it’s hard.

Congress borrowed to build a library in every county in America, and fill it with books — so that if there were ever nuclear war, everybody who survived would be close to the information necessary to rebuild civilization.

Congress borrowed to build the world’s greatest air transportation system, with airports for sport, business and commercial aviation all over the place.

Congress borrowed to build sewer systems and water systems, doubling down on public health service spending, to prevent disease and make health people.

Funny things happened. Our economy boomed. The world economy boomed. Millions of new jobs were created, filled by people who paid whopping taxes. And the debt sorta melted away.

When I hear people complain about our national debt, and how we as Americans must stop spending money, I hear them saying, “We cannot afford to be great anymore. Our time as the world’s leading economy and leading democracy has passed. It will be a lot cheaper for the nation to curl into a national fetal position, and then taxes won’t be so high.”

That’s what I hear the GOP saying, when they urge tax cuts for the rich, while taking away food stamps from the families of our military deployed overseas.  (Can you imagine anything like that happening during World War II? Not even “interned” families of soldiers went hungry.)

In 1946 — and in 1948, 1950, 1952, 1956, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1968, and other election years — there were plenty of Americans who said “we can’t afford the Marshall Plan; we can’t afford foreign aid; we can’t afford to build all these roads; we can’t afford to go to the Moon; we can’t afford to pay for college (or other schooling) for all these veterans/students.”

What would America look like, had leaders listened to those people, and then NOT borrowed the money to build America?  What would the world look like?

I don’t think George Washington spent 8 years at war to curl into the fetal position and give up.

Am I wrong?

The future of an America that is afraid to be great, even if we need to borrow money to do it? (Image from Brogan Knight)

The future of an America that is afraid to be great, even if we need to borrow money to do it? (Image from Brogan Knight)

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10 Responses to Can America afford to be great anymore? Many say, “no”

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Did I excise the correct first paragraph?


  2. James Kessler says:

    At what point, Joe, is the debt going to be enough of a consideration in the minds of the GOP so they stop giving out foolish tax cuts and stop ever increasing the military budget and end all those corporate welfare and tax loopholes for the rich and powerful?

    Why should we liberals agree to kicking the poor and the middle class in the balls in order to pay for that debt when you republicans never make those with the most and those who have most benefitted from your party’s policies that have created that debt pay?

    How come you guys only worry about the debt in so far as it allows you to make the poor and the middle class poorer and worse off?


  3. James Kessler says:

    Ed, I don’t suppose you can edit my last post to remove mu first paragraph?

    Oh btw, Joe, in the proposed GOP budget do you know how much your party is cutting the taxes of those who make less than a hundred grand a year?

    Ten whole dollars. Don’t go spending it all in one place.

    We have operated under your party’s economic policies for forty years now, Joe. If we can no longer afford to be great…. then its because your party’s economic policies suck. And yet you can’t bother to be honest enough to admit that or say we need to abandon them.

    The vast majority of that debt you claim to be oh so worried about simply wouldn’t exist were it not for your party’s wars, tax cuts and constant giving fellatio to the rich and powerful. and that is that the truth no matter how much you want to deny it.

    Simply and bluntly put, this country will be great again… once you and your fellow republicans be the patriots you claim you are by putting the United States ahead of your nonsense political ideology. Instead of the last forty years where you and yours have sacrificed and damaged the United States in pursuit of your nonsense ideology.


  4. James Kessler says:

    As for you Joe, if you and your party were really worried about the debt then it wouldn’t be giving out more tax cuts and it wouldn’t be increasing the military budget and corporate welfare. and why did your party just last month promise wall street another multi-trillion dollar bailout?


  5. Ed Darrell says:

    Now, Joe, I’m curious: Is there ever a point when you’d borrow to make a better America, a better future for your grandchildren? Or is a great America just way beyond our miserly ways these days?


  6. Ed Darrell says:

    We borrow too much when the purposes of borrowing are not noble, and we can’t pay it back.

    War comes to mind.

    Banks run credit checks before they agree to a mortgage, for example.

    If you run a credit check on the U.S., you find the only blemish is the Tea Party’s influence.


  7. lowerleavell says:

    Ed – I’m curious if you would say that there is ever a time that we borrow too much money? If borrowing is the answer, why not borrow – say – 250 trillion dollars? Why not more? At what point would our debt be a consideration in your mind?


  8. Ed Darrell says:

    An often-unsung benefit of borrowing money to grow: Taxes rates, and individual taxes, decline. With more taxpayers making more money, we can afford to cut tax rates.

    Tax rates were very high at the start of the Greatest Generation Building of America, but declined. Government income increased with the decline in tax rates.

    Want to lower taxes? Get a good program for economic development, and go for it. In almost every case, that program for economic development will require borrowing upfront. Taxes will be lower in the end.


  9. Black Flag® says:

    The US was “great” due to its economic freedom, not from its government spending.

    It is becoming less and less because of government spending and intrusions into the marketplace.

    You want the nation to become “great” again, reduce (end!) government intrusion into the market.


  10. Black Flag® says:

    A disingenuous argument.
    The debt/GDP in 1946 was due to the war!

    Wholly different situation now.

    Today, you demand government to borrow money so to give to people to do nothing – the welfare state.

    The government CUT its spending, Ed, post war – instead of consuming capital, it allowed industry and commerce to use that capital to grow the economy.

    You want economic lunacy – seize the economic output of the economy to grow the welfare state.


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