Debt held by the public equals about 100 percent of GDP. That’s hurting growth and will fuel a major crisis.
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One of the most frustrating aspects of the novel coronavirus pandemic is how many early warning signs and response plans for just such an event were waved away by public health officials, the president, governors, and just about everyone else who could have made a difference. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates warned about a pandemic in a 2015 TED talk that’s been viewed over 29 million times. The George W. Bush administration nearly put in place a pandemic preparedness plan in 2005 before letting it drop. So when President Donald Trump said on March 6 that the coronavirus “came out of nowhere,” it wasn’t quite accurate.
It’s important to underscore that all the death and economic wreckage COVID-19 has caused didn’t just “come out of nowhere” because there’s another totally predictable crisis that promises to be even more damaging to our way of life: The national debt—the amount of money the federal government owes—is already choking down economic growth, but in the future, it could lead to “sudden inflation,” and “a loss of confidence in the federal government’s ability or commitment to repay its debts in full.” “Such a crisis could spread globally” causing some “financial institutions to fail.” That’s all according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which has been warning Americans about the long-term consequence of the ballooning debt for years.
Like the coronavirus, the debt problem has the potential to seemingly appear out of the blue and turn our world upside down in a matter of weeks. There’s plenty we can and should do to avoid or minimize the potential shock to our system, but Congress and presidents from both major parties have accepted Dick Cheney’s false maxim that “deficits don’t matter.” Instead, they just keep spending more than we take in during good times and bad, even though being so deeply in hock will make us less able to deal with a future crisis.