Debt and Taxes

It doesn’t take long for my students to learn that “it depends” is almost always the right answer to policy questions. The world is complicated, and questions about how government should operate are rarely black or white.

In an excellent column about debt and taxes, Morton Marcus makes precisely that point. Debt incurred in order to make investments in the future is good; borrowing in order to shift costs properly paid for with current tax dollars–is bad. Borrowing to invest in education, transportation and communications will make life better for our children and grandchildren, and will increase their ability to pay that debt. Borrowing in order to avoid raising taxes to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan does not make life better for future generations; it merely saddles those generations with bills that we didn’t want to pay.

The issue isn’t whether debt is good or bad. It isn’t even whether it is too big. The issue is whether the borrowed dollars were used to make wise investments, or were used instead to allow current generations to say “charge it” to the future.

With debt, as with so much else, it depends.