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Public Debt, Political Paralysis, and the West by Samuel Gregg.

“There is not a more important and fundamental principle in legislation than that the ways and means ought always to face the public engagements; that our appropriations should ever go hand in hand with our promises.” Current Congressman and future President of the United States James Madison spoke these words in a 1790 speech to Congress during contentious debates about whether the US government should assume the states’ considerable debts.

Madison was seeking to remind Americans that balanced budgets are a basic element of sound public finance. Sadly, this is advice that most contemporary Western governments appear unable to embrace, judging from their public debt levels. There are perfectly legitimate debates about the economic benefits and perils associated with different public debt levels. Nonetheless, the very high public debt carried by many developed nations today and their apparent inability to stabilize—let alone reduce—such debts also reflect particular political challenges that contemporary Western democracies are failing to master.


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