The United States is a country known for spending money.
We’re a nation with a culture that encourages buying, even if it involves credit cards. Our government, which can decide to print more money, doesn’t act much differently.
We’ve been running mega budget deficits for decades — not just during times you’d expect such as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our debt surpassed mind-blowing numbers long ago.
The country has continued to move forward as arguably the best economy in the world in spite of all that. So does it really matter? Does the U.S. need to concern itself with spending less than it makes like we do as individuals?
That’s what a listener of the Clark Howard Podcast recently asked.
Is the United States National Debt Concerning?
Is the United States an irresponsible spender? That’s what a listener wanted to know on the Dec. 21 podcast episode.
Steve in Texas asked: “I think it would be good if Clark talked about the national debt vs. deficit. How concerned should we be about each? It seems like they keep on raising the ceiling on the debit all the time without any concern.”
It’s not something that most people consider on an everyday basis. But the United States currently owes $31.3 trillion in debt. And as of November 2022, the United States is facing a $248 billion budget deficit.
“The debt comes from the budget deficits that we’re running each year. I am so upset that Americans of any political stripe do not care today about the fact that we deficit spend. It drives me crazy,” Clark says.
But is it something that we should worry about? Does it actually matter what the debt and deficit numbers are? Will it start to impact our daily lives in any way?
“In your own household, if you spend money you don’t have, eventually you end up broke,” Clark says.
“What it does to a country is it makes us weak. We face significant challenges in the world from countries that don’t like us. And we cannot afford to be in a position where we’re running these massive, massive budget deficits each year. We need to grow up. And we need politicians who have the guts to tell us that this is a danger to our national security that we are running such large budget deficits each year.”
Clark mentioned that China is one of the biggest holders of our debt, as an example. Clark doesn’t think it’s a good idea for America to owe trillions of dollars to the communist government of China.
Clark’s Solution: Increase Taxes or Decrease Spending
The pattern will probably continue, though, in Clark’s opinion. Because politicians of all stripes are incentivized to get elected and re-elected. They want good approval ratings and happy constituents. Sometimes above all else.
That often means delivering on initiatives that people appreciate rather than tightening the financial belt.
“Here’s the problem. The politicians like handing out candy. But they don’t want to talk about the cavities the candy causes,” Clark says. “When we run these large budget deficits, it creates a debt burden on the country that must be serviced. Who do we sell that debt to?
“And so the deficit really matters. We either need to reduce the promises and what the government spends or we need to … I have to say the word. Another cuss word on our show. We have to increase the taxes we pay for the benefits that we want the government to give us.
“We cannot have a free lunch. You either pay for it. Or you put less food on your plate. And so far, the American people aren’t willing to hear that.”
Clark always envisioned running for political office when he was young. But he claims he couldn’t even get elected as a dog-catcher. Because a broad swath of Americans don’t want to hear about fiscal responsibility from an elected official.
“We need to be a more mature country and culture. And take responsibility for the financial decisions that we make as a nation,” Clark says.
The national debt isn’t near the top of the agenda when we examine the priorities of our politicians. But maybe it should be.
Clark thinks our constant deficit spending is weakening the United States, indebting us to some countries that go against our ideals and could make for powerful enemies.
The solution in Clark’s mind? It’s the same one that has formed the foundation of his personal financial advice for decades. Spend less than you make.