What if your grandfather had gone on a wild spending binge, long before you were born, and put himself millions of dollars in debt to people who knew he could never pay? Would it be your obligation to work double-shifts all your life to pay that debt back? And if you died before paying it off, would it become your baby’s obligation?
I think most of us would answer those questions with a resounding “No way!” As well we should. We are not and should not be slaves to the past – slaves to actions we never took and for which we had no possible means of consent.
On September 6th, 1789, in the very first year of the US Constitution, Thomas Jefferson endorsed precisely this conclusion in a letter he wrote to James Madison:
I say, the earth belongs to each of these generations during its course, fully and in its own right. The second generation receives it clear of the debts and encumbrances of the first, the third of the second, and so on.
For if the first could charge it with a debt, then the earth would belong to the dead and not to the living generation.
He wrote the same thing to John Wayles Eppes twenty-four years later, in June of 1813:
The earth belongs to the living, not to the dead.
To lay debt upon the unborn is thoroughly immoral. To try to enforce such a debt is thoroughly criminal.
Your Child or Grandchild
This conversation is critically important, because each child born in the US is born massively indebted. Using $200 trillion to represent the promises already made to people now living (some estimates are higher) and assuming a population of 310 million, that comes to $645,161 of debt, by the time your child reaches his cradle. If you expect your child to become a productive person, his or her share will be roughly twice that amount, or approximately $1.3 million.
(The US government is not unique in this regard, by the way. I use the US example, because it’s easier and because most of my readers seem to be Americans.)
Would you sign papers loading your baby with such a debt?