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Donald Trump’s Indefensible Idea On National Debt

May 11, 2016

One of those powerful reads from Justia that always informs as it sparkles with punchy writing.  I post much of what was written–but not all–as this is just perfectly thought out.

The most egregious example of Trump’s detachment from reality—with plenty of competition, of course—was his claim two days after locking down the Republican nomination that he would reduce the federal government’s debt simply by repudiating it.

Although Trump did not use the word “repudiation,” there was no doubt what he meant. As one news report described Trump’s bombshell: “Asked on Thursday whether the United States needed to pay its debts in full, or whether he could negotiate a partial repayment, Mr. Trump told the cable network CNBC, ‘I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal.’”

The response to Trump’s irresponsible comments has been appropriately harsh. Even the reporter who wrote the straight news report that I linked above, who tried mightily not to put an editorial gloss on the story, could not help reporting the many ways in which Trump’s idea was indefensible.

The deeper problem, however, is that Trump has far too much competition when it comes to speaking nonsense about the national debt. Amazingly, all of that competition is coming from people (mostly in the Republican Party, but some Democrats as well) who think themselves quite wise when it comes to discussions of government borrowing.

On the issue of the federal government’s debt, it is actually quite easy to figure out what the safe position is: Denounce debt, and talk about how government borrowing will ruin us all!

Again, Trump has evidently not thought beyond that talking point, but then again, neither have any of his former opponents (and current intra-party antagonists). Nearly every Republican, from Rand Paul to Paul Ryan to John Kasich to Mitch McConnell, repeats over and over that the federal debt is $19 trillion, without admitting that “gross debt” is meaningless and without putting the level of debt in the context of the overall economy or explaining the disastrous consequences of trying to reduce the debt.

In a Verdict column last October, I described an appearance by Donald Trump on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” in which Trump tried to sound serious. And what could be a more serious topic than the national debt? The problem is that Trump simply announced that someone had told him (“they say”) that there is a “magic number” of $23 or $24 trillion, and if the U.S. debt rises beyond that level, “we become a large-scale version of Greece, and that’s not good.”

The level of ignorance here is beyond belief. Again, however, how is this really different from supposedly serious Republicans? For example, now-failed presidential candidate John Kasich’s entire economic plan revolved around adopting a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution, without ever explaining why that would be a good policy—or, more importantly, how we should actually change our fiscal policies to live within the Constitution after it was amended. (“Reduce and control spending of the Washington bureaucracy,” which was Kasich’s big idea on his website, is positively Trumpian in its superficiality.)

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