The Catastrophic Threat to National Security: Exploding Debt
The comments below are an edited and abridged synopsis of an article by Jamie Barnett
The politics of division imposes an invisible cost to the US, but one danger in the political no-man’s-land is not even being discussed: The national debt.
Almost ten years ago, Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, stated emphatically: “The most significant threat to our national security is our debt.”
In the decade since, the US has continued to pursue wars and other conflicts, largely outside the budget process and with no war tax to ameliorate the more than $5 trillion that has been spent.
Since World War II until 2017, the government debt, compared to GDP, averaged just over 60%. During the Great Recession, the debt climbed to over 100% of US GDP as the government spent to stimulate growth. Now the national debt will top 105% of GDP this year. Politicians talk about reducing the deficit, but each deficit increases the debt.
To carry $21 trillion in debt as it grows to $33 trillion means huge interest payments annually. The interest payment on the national debt last year (low interest rates) was $263 billion, but it will grow to almost $1 trillion a year by 2028, larger than the annual budget for Medicaid and larger than the defense budget. Current economic growth won’t solve the problem; it won’t even pay for the tax cuts that just got approved.
No one believes that economic growth will continue for the next ten years. But as the US is saddled with more debt, it becomes more vulnerable, less ready to act and certainly looks weaker.
What comes of all of this debt? Not more national security. Not better infrastructure. Not a solution to stressed retirement and health systems.
The bitter medicine for addressing the national debt is the politically untenable combination of increasing taxes and decreasing expenditures. No other avenue exists.