There is nothing new under the sun…turn, turn, turn

Indebted to our predecessors

I recently read this statement:

Obama has borrowed nearly as much money as all other presidents combined…

Now Steven Goddard did not exaggerate his statement one way or another. But it got me thinking – here in 2012, we think of Obama as a huge debt accumulator.

But don’t we always think that way, during a particular Presidential term?

As of September 30, 2010 (the latest date for which figures are available, the “Obama debt level” was over $13.5 trillion dollars. This is clearly an increase over the level during George W. Bush’s last year in office; as of September 30, 2008, the figure was only a little over $10 trillion.

From here on in, we can jump back in time in four-year increments. (Comparing President-by-President is difficult, since some Presidents such as G.W. Bush and Clinton served two terms in office, while others such as G.H.W. Bush only served one term.) All figures are as of September 30 for 1980-2004, June 30 for 1976 earlier:

2004: over $7.3 trillion
2000: over $5.6 trillion
1996: over $5.2 trillion
1992: over $4.0 trillion
1988: over $2.6 trillion
1984: over $1.5 trillion
1980: over $900 billion
1976: over $600 billion
1972: over $400 billion
1968: over $347 billion
1964: over $311 billion
1960: over $286 billion

The point: take any President – ANY President – in the last fifty years, and you can claim that the President in question has piled on debt to raise it to historical levels.

But this doesn’t necessarily hold when you go farther back in history. Take Andrew Jackson. After his first inauguration in 1829, the national debt stood at over $48 million on January 1, 1830. By 1835, it was less than $34,000.

And neo-cons, Andrew Jackson was a Democrat.

However, in modern times the idea of paying down the national debt hasn’t taken hold – if money is laying around, we want to spend it. (I say “we” rather than “the government” because politicians are responding to pressure from constituents.) And this won’t change any time soon.

Just wait until the election of 2020, when the Democratic Presidential candidate attacks the Republican Presidential candidate and says, “Remember back in the days of President Obama when the national debt was only $15 trillion? The Republicans just want to pile on more debt.”

Meanwhile, the Republican candidate will respond, “I will govern as a fiscal conservative, just like George W. Bush.”

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