Think of the worst year of your finances. Would you ever dig yourself into that same hole? Our government might. Last month, President Joe Biden released a $6 trillion budget proposal—twice the amount of government spending in 2008. For more comparison, Bill Clinton balanced the budget in the 1990s. Today, we are so unbalanced that this year’s deficit equals a mid-1990s federal budget. Spending is out of control, and no one seems to be questioning it.
Even mainstream economists are making sudden U-turns, but some are speaking up. At the onset of the pandemic, Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff told the New York Times that the deficit strategy was only beginning. “If we go up another $10 trillion, I wouldn’t even blink at that now,” he said. Well, we’re blinking, and we’re in dangerous territory from our spending habits.
Let’s call out the elephant in the room: cheap money. With rock bottom low interest rates, we’re making money cheap and heavily distorting the economy. Over time, this tsunami of debt is changing the structure of the entire economy, while we hop from bailout to bailout. And because interest rates are so low, large companies and governments can continue issuing bonds to stay afloat.
Low interest rates sound good when they’re encouraging spending and pumping up the economy. But this strategy has the dark side of inflation, especially when it comes to asset prices. We all know housing is too expensive, and it’s directly because of monetary policy. Consider that even before the “booming” economy of 2018, 40 percent of Americans had negative net incomes and were borrowing money to pay for basic household needs. That number is likely to grow as long as we continue to bail out the government and every corporation.
We have a skewed society that doesn’t know how to confront its problems. And it’s global: Societies across the world are papering over their public policy issues with red ink.
We don’t need to guess what lies ahead for America. Over in Japan, they allegedly have the world’s highest debt to GDP ratios without any adverse effect from inflation or interest rates. Still, there are consequences: Japan also has a “mediocre average annual growth rate of 1 percent in the past three decades.” And 21 percent of Japanese small and medium-sized businesses are zombie firms. Japan has paid heavily for its debt.
While new programs and assistance might look benevolent in the short term, will the government be doing twice as much as it used to do? Probably not. In a perfect world, there would be enough money to give everyone everything they need—but it’s not reality. “Subsidization is supposed to be temporary. It’s become a way of life…the only way of life,” said Dion Rabouin in a jaw-dropping farewell manifesto to his daily Axios newsletter. We believe in a social safety net, in infrastructure and in making the investments that will make America, or keep America, relevant and robust. But Washington will have to borrow trillions just to keep the lights on. Just writing a blank check for everything is not the solution to any of our problems.
This budget isn’t only about the people in today’s America. It’s about the next generation. We already see wealth gaps emerging and destabilizing the fabric of our society. And eventually, someone—somewhere, somehow—will have to pay this debt, whether it’s in the form of inflation or of interest payments that continue to gobble up an ever-increasing amount of our federal budget. Instead of paying for education, infrastructure and environmental protection, the next generation will be paying interest on the debt that was spent irresponsibly.
Biden could go down in history as the commander-in-chief who did more than any other president in history. We’re hoping he errs on the side of fiscal responsibility and thinks about “we the people,” who will eventually foot the bill and live in a world rife with economic distortion.
David Grasso is the host of the Follow the Profit Podcast, where he shares simple ideas for financial success and lessons learned the hard way. He is also the CEO of Bold TV, Inc, a nonprofit media company dedicated to entrepreneurship and cultural empowerment.