When I grew up in the 1970s, my father taught my sisters and me to “always save for a rainy day.”
He was a child of the Depression, after all, one of the longest “rainy day” periods Americans have ever experienced.
In 2021, however, America’s new national mantra appears to be “borrow and spend like the Sun will always shine!”
Our federal government has certainly been following that approach.
Sure, because the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns crushed the economy and raised enormous social costs, almost everyone agreed that emergency spending measures were necessary.
But the federal government was already headed for a $2.3 trillion shortfall in 2021 – and that was before President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill and massive pork sandwich was passed.
The truth is, pandemic or no pandemic, both Republicans and Democrats are addicted to debt.
Since 1970 federal spending, deficits and debt – now $28 trillion and growing – have been exploding.
President Clinton managed to balance the federal budget. In fact, he delivered a surplus in his last four budgets – the only surpluses in the last half century.
But President Trump increased our national debt nearly $7 trillion in four years – in part due to the COVID crisis.
President Obama increased our debt more than $8 trillion – in part due to the financial crisis he inherited.
President Bush II increased our debt more than $6 trillion – in part due to the tech-stock crisis he inherited.
The slogan “never let a good crisis go to waste” is a popular one in Washington, D.C.
But our addiction to debt is not limited to government. Americans have been “spending like drunken sailors” for a long time.
According to the personal finance website The Balance, consumer debt hit a record of over $4.2 trillion in February 2020.
Consumer debt is made up of two kinds of debt: revolving, which is mostly credit card debt, and non-revolving, such car loans or college loans.
Revolving debt hit an all-time high in February 2020, just before pandemic struck, but it actually fell in 2020.
Thanks to the COVID-19 lockdowns that shut down so much of the economy, Americans slashed their spending in 2020 and used their credit cards less.
The bad news, reports the Balance, is that non-revolving debt – auto loans and college debt – have increased
Because more Americans are taking advantage of historically low interest rates to buy new SUVs and Teslas.
And because millions of young people have borrowed hundreds of billions of dollars to cover ever-increasing college tuition costs, which the government says have jumped a mere 1,417 percent from where they were in 1977, Americans now owe more than $1.7 trillion in student loan debt.
The sensible solution to college debt, then, is to get to the root cause of those massive increases in tuition costs, right?
Nope! The government’s solution is to borrow even more money to relieve the college debt individuals willingly took on.
Some super-progressive Democrat senators are even urging President Biden to pay off or forgive up to $50,000 of a student’s college tuition debt.
How our borrowing addiction can end well is anyone guess. We are clearly setting up ourselves – and our kids – for a very unpleasant outcome.
All I know for sure is the mantra of 2021 is widespread and it is this: “Never save for a rainy day!”
Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at amazon.com, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is nationally syndicated by Cagle Cartoons Inc. Send comments to him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.