The Burden of Debt as Destructive to Freedom as Subjugation by Conquest
Benjamin Franklin said: “Think what you do when you run into debt; you give to another power over your liberty.”
The book of Proverbs tells us: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” Proverbs 22:7
In other words, one could say that slavery is either the result of conquest or the bondage of debt. Debt is borrowing against the future, which means payback will come with interest to the one who loaned the money to begin with.
The Founding Fathers knew that at times of crisis borrowing can be an honorable procedure, but they looked upon it as a temporary handicap that should be resolved at the earliest possible moment. The Founding Fathers from their own experience knew of the destructive force debt can have both on an individual as well as a nation.
For example, they knew that an individual in debt would often curtail his freedom as well as benumb his spirit to feel hesitant to seek a new location or a new profession and often passed up financial opportunities which a free man might risk.
There is also the sense of waste. The Founding Fathers saw it as money spent for pleasures or even needs that are long past, but still paying on. It is like a man who has to make payments on a dead horse. They considered frugality a virtue and even when borrowing in an emergency they wanted to pay back as promptly as possible. In other words, they recognized debt as a trap, even an evil.
Splurge borrowing to enjoy the luxury of extravagant living beyond one’s means was the worst kind of debt. They knew the snare that this brought in bringing the borrower into slavery. They also knew that keeping up with one’s neighbor – who was also going into debt in gaining extravagant things – was a great temptation. ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ as we would say today – is a great temptation.
Benjamin Franklin made his fortune through frugality and financial discipline. He said this: “But what madness must it be to one in debt for these superfluities! We are offered, by the terms of this vendue, six month’s credit; the net perhaps is induced some of us to attend it, because we cannot spare the ready money, and hope now to be fine without it. But, ah, think what you do when you run in debt; you give to another power over your liberty. You cannot pay at the time, you will be ashamed to see a creditor; he will be in fear when you speak to him; you will make poor pitiful sneaking excuses, and by degrees come to lose your veracity, rides upon debts back. And sink into face down right lying for, as poor Richard says, the second vice is lying, the first is running in debt. And again, to the same purpose, lying rides upon debts back. Where is a free born Englishman ought not to be ashamed or afraid to see or speak to any man living. But poverty often deprives a man of all spirit and virtue: ‘Tis hard for empty bag to stand upright, as poor Richard says.’”
What did the Founding Fathers have to say about national debt? From their wisdom born out of experience they knew that the debts of the nation are no different than the debts of an individual. They also knew the time of crisis, like war or some other emergency could force a nation to borrow, but they also consider it of supreme importance to get out of debt as soon as possible in order to prosper. Thomas Jefferson said: “I, however, place economy among the first and most important of republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared.”
Should we be passing on our debt to the next generation? Some believed that some debts incurred, like war debts could be passed on to the next generation since war was fought to maintain the independence and integrity of the nation. However, that was not the thought of the Founding Fathers because they believe that any debt incurred in their generation should be paid by their generation.
In our day we see how the national debt has exploded or skyrocketed at an astonishing level. The indebtedness has been accompanied by an explosion in the cost of government operations. The bigger the government the more the cost and government getting involved in our everyday life.
We have today what I call the “Hezekiah Principle.”
In 2 Kings 17-20 we see that Hezekiah is sick to death and the prophet Isaiah tells him to put his house in order. He prays and the Lord answers and gives him another 15 years of life. During that time, he shows the messengers from Babylon all his treasures, etc. and when Isaiah hears about it tells Hezekiah, “The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord. And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood, that will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.”
What was the response of Hezekiah? 2 Kings 20:19 “The word of the Lord you have spoken is good.” For he thought, ‘Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?’”
He did not seem to be concerned about some of his own descendants that as long as there was peace in his own lifetime, he was satisfied. This is the Hezekiah principle and this seems to be the attitude of the politicians we have today who borrow money and lay the burden of payment on our children and grandchildren.