Those who focus on the U.S. national debt (and I’m one of them) keep wondering how long this debt levitation act can go on. The U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio is at the highest level in history (106%), with the exception of the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.
At least in 1945, the U.S. had won the war and our economy dominated world output and production. Today, we have the debt without the global dominance.
The U.S. has always been willing to increase debt to fight and win a war, but the debt was promptly scaled down and contained once the war was over. Today, there is no war comparable to the great wars of American history, and yet the debt keeps growing.
This article by the celebrated James Grant reviews not only the current debt and deficit situation but provides an overview of the U.S. national debt since George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Grant makes the point that the debt has been increased and decreased on a regular basis but never until today was there a view that the deficit didn’t matter and could be increased indefinitely. Grant also describes how these historic debt management efforts have been bipartisan.
Republicans Harding and Coolidge reduced the debt; the Democrat Andrew Jackson actually eliminated the debt in 1836. Today there is bipartisan profligacy.
This article is longer than our usual selection but well worth your time and effort to understand the big picture and the likelihood of a U.S. debt crisis sooner rather than later.