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Bankrupting America

"Fiscal irresponsibility has seldom provided a way out of poverty, whether for individuals or for nations." Dr. Thomas Sowell Staff

October 8, 2023


Addressing Partisan Disinformation

A nonpartisan Manhattan Institute report stated:

  • “In order to avoid the partisan misrepresentations that typify tax policy debates, it is important to clarify, at the outset, that this report is not a conservative anti-tax manifesto. It does not argue that upper-income taxes should not be raised at all. Nor does it claim that all tax cuts pay for themselves.”[1]

The report addresses widespread disinformation spread by politicians, media outlets, and activists. For example, regarding the myth that European governments fund public services by taxing the wealthy more, it notes that “European tax revenues are driven by more broad-based income and consumption taxes. They have national sales taxes, or value-added taxes, that hit the poor and middle classes hardest.”[2] Of the promise of funding an expansive “progressive” agenda primarily by raising taxes on high-income earners, they observed:

  • “Everyone wants a free lunch, and taxing the rich has always been popular with voters — but even moderately informed voters understand that such a promise is mathematically — and economically — absurd.”

Yet with cover from plausible-sounding partisan “experts” and a propagandistic educational system, much economic disinformation has gained considerable traction among both the poorly informed and the miseducated. Biased partisan “fact-checkers” and media organizations have privileged false claims about economic issues in service of favored agendas, lending credibility to economic fallacies and maintaining them prominently in public discourse.

The Math Deniers

Economist Dr. Thomas Sowell, fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, has observed that some pseudo-intellectual “Teflon Prophets” have repeatedly made claims that have proven to be massively wrong, but continue to be set forth as credible experts with no accountability for past failures.

A contemporary example is Paul Krugman, a Nobel laureate in a narrow specialization of economics who expounds his wide-ranging partisan opinions in a New York Times column. These are set forth confidently under the guise of expertise with no apparent self-insight regarding voluminous past failures. Krugman’s false claims are never “fact-checked” by his employer, nor are corrections issued when his assumptions are proven wrong and his authoritatively asserted predictions fail.

Magical Monetary Theory

NYT opinionist Paul Krugman, former Mondale advisor Paul London, and others are apostles of “Modern Monetary Theory,” designated “magical monetary theory” by its critics.

Greenwood and Hanke warned in the Wall Street Journal that “Magical Monetary Theory” proponents peddle “snake oil.”[3] MMT asserts essentially that "fiscal deficits don’t matter as long as countries borrow in their own currencies and inflation stays in check,"[4] although the theory’s own stated assumptions and preconditions have been widely ignored by its proponents. Verbal wizardry cannot suspend math nor the principles of basic economics.

Nonetheless, Krugman has worked to provide partisan fellow-travelers with “expert” cover for unlimited national debt. In December 2020, Krugman wrote in the NYT to “Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Debt.”[5] He opined that readers should simply ignore “deficit rants,” which were (according to Krugman) not mainstream public concerns, but baseless charges by ignorant or dishonest political opponents. Krugman argued that the U.S. national debt was not a big deal because interest rates were low and interest payments affordable:

Krugman’s claim that “all indications are that [interest rates] will stay low for years to come” was repudiated by competent economists and financially literate individuals at the time in view of multiple ominous indicators. Three years later, with rates on 10 and 30-year treasury bonds at 16-year highs, extreme U.S. deficits are far more costly.

Yet Krugman did not acknowledge that he was (drastically) wrong, or even stand by his prior admission that high government debt is far less affordable when interest rates are high. Instead, Krugman doubled down on his partisan mantra that government debt essentially does not matter. In May 2023, Krugman wrote that the U.S. does not need to pay off its government debt at all, punctuated with more vitriolic attacks against those who advocated fiscal responsibility.[6] In one of Krugman’s numerous magic tricks, he transforms concerns about high government debt that he previously acknowledged as consequential under high interest rates, into nefarious disinformation allegedly pushed by right-wing extremists. Krugman went on to argue that the debt ceiling should be revoked entirely to remove any constraint on government spending. No explanation was offered regarding how more than a half a trillion dollars of interest payment on the national debt annually – funds that could be retained by taxpayers or invested in other services instead of merely servicing debt with no principal reduction – is allegedly benign. Interest payments on debt will soon surpass Social Security as the largest US government expenditure.

Krugman’s arguments consistently fail factual and logical scrutiny. He cites historical vignettes from Napoleon’s time even while being wrong on today’s basic facts. Krugman argued that growing public debt is not a problem in an economy that was growing proportionately. Yet government spending and debt have been increasing much faster than nominal economic growth, which is unsustainable. The debt ceiling exists precisely to ensure that government spending does not outstrip broader economic growth and revenue base. Krugman evades these facts with a magician’s verbal sleight. The internal contradictions of Krugman’s own statements and his obfuscation of fact to promote his political agenda provide little basis for honoring his statements as good faith perspectives rather than calculated deception.

Similar claims were made by former Mondale advisor Paul London in a polemical diatribe engaging in numerous false claims and evasions under the guise of expert commentary.[7] In a polemical diatribe, London engages in numerous false claims and evasions. London pushes conspiracy theories of public debt as a “right-wing” and “reactionary” concern, rather than a broad-based consensus of the majority of Americans to couple debt limit increases with spending reductions.[8] 

London misrepresents high spending as being necessary to confront China, support Ukraine, and confront other geopolitical challenges, while ignoring the Biden administration’s weak record on confronting international adversaries and the fact that spending overruns overwhelmingly reflect expansive welfare state spending and handouts to get politicians re-elected rather than national security needs. The Biden student loan bailout, for example, had an estimated cost of more than $500 billion before it was rejected by the Supreme Court, compared to less than one-tenth that amount spent on Ukraine aid to date. London wrote:

  • “The anti-government right-wing has been hammering home its false narrative about the dangers of government debt for almost a century so it is hard to root out. They love to say that repaying the debt will crush your grandchildren. This is hogwash but this story has deep roots in the public psyche. The fact that 25 or so U.S. recessions and depressions over the past 250 years have never been caused by too much government spending or handicapped future generations does not faze those who propagate this false narrative. “

London’s diatribe attempts to shout down contrary evidence with name-calling and bullying tactics rather than factual engagement. His fact-free historical revisionism is vigorously disputed by competent economists and historians (see one of many examples here[9]). Obama-era advisors pitching massive stimulus spending not only failed to consider long-term consequences of debt, but railed against those who raised warnings. Contemporary left-wing pundits have claimed without evidence that economic problems of the Obama era arose not from incurring massive debt with little to show for it, but that Obama’s “greatest mistake” was not being aggressive enough with economic handouts and stimuli.[10]

“Magic Monetary Policy” but has close parallels with the economic mismanagement of Weimar Germany or Zimbabwe. As with many partisan operatives masquerading as “experts,” neither Krugman nor London pay any price for being wrong. Their incentives are not to be truthful or to offer correct forecasts, but to propagandize their employer’s political agenda and make it seem plausible. Gaslighting and “math denial” wins accolades in partisan echo chambers, regardless of the high cost paid by others and broader society.

Massive deficit spending far in excess of economic growth and magical fiscal thinking are in no way confined to the political left. In the 21st century, conservative governments have often been elected on platforms of fiscal restraint and spending cuts only to balloon the deficit with massive spending sprees. Both major US political parties have culpability for the nation’s sovereign debt crisis and records which do not match their rhetoric.

The Competent View

Leading economists and competent analysts who face consequences for accuracy tell very different stories. MMT’s assertion that public debt can grow indefinitely is preconditioned on assumptions of low inflation, low borrowing costs, stable tax base, and economic growth proportional to debt costs which are fantastically remote from contemporary circumstances in the United States and many other Western nations.

Reuters’ David Lawder and Andy Sullivan wrote that far from a “needless panic”about debt, budget experts expressed concern that budget deals haven’t done nearly enough to cut spending.[11] They quote fiscal expert Dr. Dennis Ippolito: “"If you're worried about the deficit and debt problem,” the June 2023 debt limit increase “does nothing.” They further note that the revenue shortfall will grow as the population ages, leading to a double hit of ever-increasing debt despite projections of falling revenue. Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio stated in September 2023:

With the U.S. national debt exceeding 100% of the Gross Domestic Product in 2013, Stanford Economist Thomas Sowell wrote:

  • “Wall Street was no longer yawning…It is one thing to have a national debt as large as the Gross Domestic Product, or larger, at the end of a major war, for the return of peace means drastic reductions in military spending, which presents an opportunity to begin paying down that national debt over the ensuing years. But to have a comparable national debt in peacetime presents more grim options, because there is no indication of the kind of reduction of government spending which occurs at the end of a war.”[13]

Dr. Sowell observed: “Fiscal irresponsibility has seldom provided a way out of poverty, whether for individuals or for nations.”[14] Nor have fiscally irresponsible rich nations remained prosperous indefinitely.

Slowing Economic Growth

USA Today columnist Ingrid Jacques observed that “as debt increases, economic growth slows – and leads to even higher interest rates.” Ray Dalio warned that economic growth “could fall to zero, give or take 1% or 2%. I think you’re going to get a meaningful slowing of the economy.”[15] This economic slowing in turn worsens the debt crisis as stagnation in new revenues fail to keep pace with growing deficits and “demographic time bombs.”

Fiscal Deterioration

In August 2023, the Fitch Rating Agency downgraded the US government’s credit rating from AAA to AA+ due to excessive spending and mounting debt.”[16] The Fitch Rating Agency wrote:

  • “The rating downgrade of the United States reflects the expected fiscal deterioration over the next three years, a high and growing general government debt burden, and the erosion of governance relative to 'AA' and 'AAA' rated peers over the last two decades that has manifested in repeated debt limit standoffs and last-minute resolutions.”

Dr. Sowell noted that U.S. deficits and national debt are at the highest level in history and with no pending end to a major war or other resolution that will lead to government downsizing and an ability to pay down debt. He observed that resolutions are challenging because of influential special interests opposing cuts in spending benefiting them, and that tax rates and revenue collections do not always move in the same direction, let alone proportionally.[17]

The United Kingdom and some European nations are facing a similar debt crisis. Citing various indicators, Will Hutton wrote in The Guardian (UK): “Let’s stop kidding ourselves we’re a rich nation and get real… the UK’s gone bust.”[18]

Misleading the Public

Cost overruns and massive discrepancies between projected and actual government deficits are well-known as systemic problems. Dr. Sowell cited examples of “the enormous potential for deception when preparing government budget, simply by changing the arbitrary assumptions on which those budget projections are based.”[19] He continued to quote The Economist:

  • “Nearly all states apply an optimistic discount rate to their obligations, making the liabilities seem smaller than they are…Governors and mayors have long offered fat pensions to public servants, thus buying votes today and sending the bill to future taxpayers.”

These deceptions continue today. Senator Mitt Romney noted that the Biden Administration’s budgetary projections fail to plan for the loss of approximately 25% of Social Security revenues paid by the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) trust fund, despite the Administration’s knowledge that the fund will become insolvent within several years.[20] Past projections have been overly optimistic with the program running out of funding earlier than anticipated.[21]


Government policies leading to vast expansion in the money supply without a commensurate increase in goods and services lead to inflation as more dollars chase fewer goods. Inflation acts as a regressive tax which is especially punishing to the poor, the elderly, and those with fixed income. Renowned economist Peter Schiff observed:

  • “Anyone claiming that recent core CPI data evidences inflation is close to the Fed's 2% target doesn't understand inflation, which is a function of the excess demand created by an expansion of the supply of money and credit. Soaring public and private debt means higher inflation.”[22]

Nobel Laureate Economist Milton Friedman stated that U.S. “inflation is made in one place and one place only: Washington DC.” The Washington Examiner wrote:

  • “Borrowing trillions of dollars to goose a boom already underway before [Biden] came to office sprayed gasoline onto a red-hot post-pandemic engine, and inflation burst into flames…this inflation is wreaking havoc on the economy, particularly for lower-income voters.”[23]

The propagandistically-named “Inflation Reduction Act” has done nothing to diminish inflation, whereas analysts have noted that the act’s massive deficit spending is likely to spur future inflation. The Associated Press noted that in the Biden presidency from 2022 to 2023, “the inflation rate has dropped from 9% to 3.2% — most economists say little to none of the drop came from the law.”[24] Over this period, high inflation, high interest rates, and currency declines wiped out over $11 trillion in wealth and “set the world back for the first time since 2008,” according to a UBS study.

Increasing Cost of Debt

The rise in interest rates for government debt reflects growing concern from markets at unsustainable U.S. spending and diminishing demand of buyers for ever-more government debt. Noting the breakdown in relationship between 10-year U.S. treasury bond yields and the ratio of copper to gold, Deutsche Bank concluded that “the rise in long-term yields is due to large fiscal deficits, aggressive central bank quantitative tightening and central banks ruling out rate cuts.”[25]

In no small part because China holds billions in U.S. debt and has historically been a major purchaser of U.S. treasuries, the U.S. has been unable to effectively confront China on human rights abuses. In 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “pleaded with China to buy U.S. treasuries” despite U.S. fiscal irresponsibility and “ballooning deficits.”[26]In 2023, Beijing has had enough and is reducing its balance sheet of U.S. debt. Other lenders, both international and domestic, are finding U.S. government debt less attractive and are demanding higher premiums.

Government fiscal irresponsibility diminishes demand for treasury bonds by prudent investors, increasing the risk premium they require to hold government debt even above inflation. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard wrote in The Telegraph (UK):

  • “The US economic expansion is being kept afloat only by extreme fiscal stimulus and war-time deficits, an astonishing state of affairs at the top of the cycle. The federal government is unable to fund this scale of borrowing from US domestic savings, and global creditors are no longer willing to fund it either at bearable cost.

  • “The violent spike in US Treasury yields over the last two months has nothing to do with inflation, which has been falling faster than markets expected. Real rates are rocketing, driven by a sudden jump in the ‘term premium.’ Think of it as a credit crunch being imposed upon a feckless political class in Washington by global bond vigilantes…

  • “Bernard Connolly, the world’s foremost Wicksellian economist, says the US fiscal bubble is the latest in a long string of bubbles required to keep Western economies above water. ‘If the fiscal deficit is reduced, the Federal Reserve will have to collapse interest rates,’ he said. It is a trend ‘incompatible with the maintenance of a democratic capitalist society, and thus with the maintenance of prosperity and freedom,’ he warns in his brilliant magnum opus, You Always Hurt the One You Love: Central Banks and the Murder of Capitalism.

  • “It is sobering to think that the US federal government was running a large budget surplus in 2000 and the gross debt ratio was 54pc of GDP. A quarter of a century later, the ratio is 120pc and vaulting past the 1945 peak…

  • “David Kelly from JP Morgan says the US is looking at annual fiscal deficits of $2 trillion this year, next year, and as far as the eye can see. This is at a time of effectively full employment and what should be bumper tax revenues. The deficit could hit $3.5 trillion in the next downturn…

  • “Investors have belatedly, and suddenly, woken up to the shocking implications of a structural budget deficit heading for 8pc of GDP even before any trouble starts. It is this that has driven up yields on US Treasuries by 100 basis points since July”...Fitch Ratings stripped the US of its AAA crown in August because of a ‘steady deterioration in standards of governance over the last 20 years.’”[27]

Disinvesting America

Dr. Sowell wrote that “‘disinvestment’ can also apply to moving assets from the future into the present.” He continued:

  • “Disinvestments made by a given decision maker for himself must be distinguished from disinvestments made for him by others. The legal system provides safeguards against private individuals' disinvesting someone else's assets. However, there is no legal protection against the government itself doing the same thing. For example, inflationary policies may disinvest part of any financial assets set aside for one's old age, leaving less future real assets in the hands of the individual who saved them and putting more present real assets in the hands of the government that issues the inflated currency. The transfer is no less real for having been implicit and therefore not subject to constitutional limitations on confiscation of property ‘without due process of law.’ Probably more assets have been confiscated this way than by the exercise of government's right of ‘eminent domain’ under constitutional guarantees. Nor are those who have lost their savings predominantly wealthy people with large bank accounts or stocks and bonds. Much saving takes place in forms not usually thought of as savings-life insurance and employee pension funds, for example. Through pension funds, American workers own a higher percentage of the total industrial assets of the United States than do workers in an avowedly communist nation like Yugoslavia.' The confiscation of employee pension fund assets through inflation is not so much a redistribution from one income class to another as it is a redistribution from the pensioners' future assets to the government's present assets.”[28]

Inflation and government debt (through future taxes) are forms of disinvestment of the nation’s future, both generally and for individuals, incurred by government mismanagement.

Compounding Problems

The increasing cost of government debt poses severe problems which are compounding rapidly. Market analyst Scott Kennedy wrote:

  • “Rates cannot climb indefinitely without crippling the country. Federal debt is already much too high. Raising rates with so much debt is awful…Cutting all non-defense discretionary spending to zero would still leave the United States with a huge deficit.

  • “…If the United States has to pay 6% on the roughly $32 trillion in federal debt we've already accrued, that would be $1.92 trillion per year. The only thing preventing an absolute explosion in the deficit is that some of the debts have lower interest rates locked in for longer periods. However, as those cheaper debts expire, new debts are issued to lock in higher costs.

  • “The net interest expense listed by the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) was $475 billion for 2022. The biggest factor holding that number down was lower rates. The difference between those values is $1.445 trillion. Just ask yourself how we will pay another $1.445 trillion in interest expenses. The obvious answer is issuing more debt, but that's a pretty bad plan.

  • “At 6% interest rates on all the outstanding Federal Debt, 29.5% of total tax collections will go to nothing but interest. What do you call a family where 29.5% of total income goes to paying interest expense? Broke. Can the United States handle a dramatic increase in mandatory retirement benefits and an explosion in the cost of debt? I doubt it.

  • “Higher interest rates with low government debt would not be much of an issue. The problem is that the debt already exists. Further, there's precious little value to show for it. Jerome Powell has stated explicitly that the Federal Reserve does not consider what its actions do to the country's future financial viability. Short-term inflation is the only factor they consider, and the costs of controlling it don't matter.

  • “Deficits drive inflation. That's the cause and effect. It's really simple. So if we increase interest expense by raising rates or issuing more debt (but we're doing both), the future deficits get bigger and the debt to GDP metric compounds.

  • “Someone is going to argue that higher rates will cause politicians to stop spending someone else's money. That's a cute idea. It never worked.”[29]


[1] Evensen, Jay. “Opinion: What Democrats get wrong with ‘tax the rich’ mantra.” Deseret News, October 5, 2023.

[2] Evensen, Jay. “Opinion: What Democrats get wrong with ‘tax the rich’ mantra.” Deseret News, October 5, 2023.

[3] Greenwood, John and Steven H. Hanke. "Magical Monetary Theory." Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2019. Free version online at

[4] Greenwood, John and Steven H. Hanke. "Magical Monetary Theory." Wall Street Journal, June 4, 2019. Free version online at

[5] Krugman, Paul. "Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Debt." New York Times, December 3, 2020.

[6] Krugman, Paul. “Working Out: Death, Napoleon, and Debt.” New York Times, May 19, 2023. A paywall-free summary is at Business Insider. Sor, Jennifer. “ Here's why the US doesn't have to pay off its $31 trillion mountain of debt, according to Paul Krugman.” Business Insider, May 22, 2023.

[7] London, Paul. “The Needless Panic About Government Debt.” The Hill, October 5, 2023.

[8] “New poll shows majority of adults in U.S. say they are concerned about debt limit, don’t understand latest negotiations.” PBS News, May 19, 2023.

[9] Mitchell, Daniel. "FDR’s ‘New Deal’ Worsened and Prolonged the Great Depression." Foundation for Economic Education, August 8, 2020.

[10] Egan, Matthew. “Joe Biden wants to avoid the Obama era’s biggest economic mistake. Congress may not let him.” CNN, January 20, 2021.

[11] Lawder, David and Andy Sullivan. "Analysis: Debt ceiling deal ignores US debt time bomb." Reuters, June 5, 2023.

[12] Min, Sarah. “Ray Dalio says the U.S. is going to have a debt crisis.” CNBC, September 28, 2023.

[13] Sowell, Thomas. Basic Economics, 5th Edition. Basic Books, 2014. Kindle Edition, p. 440.

[14] Sowell, Thomas. Intellectuals and Society, Revised and Expanded Edition, 2012. Basic Books, Kindle Edition, p. 55.


[16] Jacques, Ingrid. “'Bidenomics' in action: Democrats' excessive spending, mounting debt earn US credit downgrade.” USA Today, August 7, 2023.

[17] May, Caroline. “Thomas Sowell speaks to TheDC about the financial crisis, health care, and his ideological transformation from Marxism to conservatism.” Yahoo News, January 23, 2011.

[18] Hutton, Will. “Let’s stop kidding ourselves we’re a rich nation and get real… the UK’s gone bust.” The Guardian (UK), August 13, 2023.

[19] Sowell, Thomas. Basic Economics, 5th Edition, 2015. Basic Books, Kindle Edition, p. 452.

[20] Cariaga, Vance. "Social Security: Romney Asks Why 25% Drop in Funds Isn’t in Biden’s Budget." GoBankingRates, April 2, 2023.

[21] Folley, Aris. "Romney grills Biden official about Social Security in tense exchange." The Hill, March 15, 2023.

[22] Schiff, Peter. @PeterSchiff, Twitter, October 4, 2023.

[23] “Bidenomics was a mistake.” Washington Examiner, October 6, 2023.

[24] Boak, Josh and Paul Wiseman. "Yes, inflation is down. No, the Inflation Reduction Act doesn’t deserve the credit." Associated Press, August 13, 2023.

[25] Goldstein, Steve. “The stock market can’t catch a break. Good news is bad news, and now bad news is bad news, too.” Marketwatch, September 27, 2023.

[26] Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose. “Hillary Clinton pleads with China to buy US Treasuries as Japan looks on.” The Telegraph (UK), February 22, 2009.

[27] Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose. “Why the Fed will again have to slash rates to zero and relaunch QE.” The Telegraph (UK), October , 2023.

[28] Sowell, Thomas. Knowledge and Decisions. Basic Books, 1996.

[29] Kennedy, Scott. “Debt Explosion.” Seeking Alpha, Mar. 29, 2023.

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