Joe Carter is a Big Eva double whammy. He’s part of The Gospel Coalition. And he’s also a pastor at McLean Bible Church, the home of David Platt. I’ve often called him Buzzfeed Joe Carter for his low quality explainers. And this explainer on the national debt is no different. The Gospel Coalition published an article titled, “Economics for Church Leaders: National Debt as Intergenerational Injustice” to “help church leaders think more clearly about how to apply their faith commitments to economics and public policy.”
National debt is the total net debt of the United States as opposed to a deficit which is a net loss for a given period. This is an easy concept to understand. The current national debt stands at $28 trillion. Joe Carter touts a low $22 trillion number that comes from FRED and specifies debt that is “public” as opposed to held by the federal government. This differs from the debt clock calculators that use US Treasury data. Currently, Congress is debating a $3.5 trillion spending bill.
The Bible is clear that believers are to pay what we owe. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed” (Rom. 13:7). Similarly, the Psalmist warns, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back” (Ps. 37:21). And Proverbs tells us, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’—when you have it with you” (Prov. 3:27-28). If we as citizens are to pay taxes and revenue we owe, shouldn’t the authorities set up as “ministers of God” be expected to do the same?
The problem is that government officials have not done the same. And we need to face that reality and adjust our actions accordingly.
This is a very simplistic view of what the Bible teaches about debt, as it ignores God’s law in which debt was forgiven. However, when individuals borrow money and do not repay their lender, that is wickedness. But the general equity of the individual cannot be equated to governments. This is softminded logic whether we are talking about foreign policy or fiscal policy.
In the Bible we see many instances of Israel and Judea dealing with foreign overlords. The concept of tribute existed heavily back then and this concept was an obligation comparable to national debt. There is a theological leap in imposing an obligation to pay the national debt that Joe Carter freely non sequiturs. This becomes increasingly clear when Carter goes on to explain who owns the US national debt.
Only around $1 trillion is held by China, contrary to public perception. Meanwhile majority of the national debt is held by the Federal Reserve. In other words, the US government is loaning money to itself and then paying back itself with interest by taking out more debt or via taxpayer dollars. This is a wicked practice. And by no means should generations of Americans be compelled with Bible verses to pay the $10.8 trillion (December 2020) held by the federal reserve. Furthermore an additional $6 trillion is debt held by the federal government. Agencies like Social Security loan excess funds to the federal government as an “investment.” Put more graphically, Social Security steals money from you for your retirement. It pays out its previous benefactors and it loans the excess to the federal government at base level interest rates. Meaning you get ripped off multiple times from paying into Social Security. So the majority of the national debt is held by the US government, a trend that will only increase as the debt is increasing faster than outside entities can purchase US bonds.
Between the debt held by China and the debt held by federal entities, cancelling this debt would reduce the total to about $10.2 trillion. This is still a lot of debt. But this is far more feasible a solution than paying the national debt as it stands right now.
Alas, these uncomfortable solutions which will certainly have consequences are avoided in favor of the status quo. At this point it would also be more profitable to argue that the federal government should just print the money it needs to fund operations with its existing fiat currency as opposed to issuing debt and collecting taxes.
There is no point to paying off the national debt, nor are latter generations obliged to honor the wickedness of previous generations. This is also why fiscal conservatism cannot be resurrected, as we don’t have a monetary system worth conserving. Rather we should be seeking to end all wickedness in governing operations, not reward it at great cost.