Jackson and Zero Debt

On this day in 1835, President Andrew Jackson proudly announced that, with his austere economic policies, the debt of the United States had been reduced – for the first and last time in history – to zero. Paradoxically this caused an economic crisis, for it seems a little borrowing in a nation is a good thing, but all within the limits of manageability.

As the old commercial used to say, ‘we’ve come a long way, baby’. The U.S. debt is now officially $32 trillion, a number so huge that no imagination, short of a quasi-divine one, could imagine it – it’s beyond comprehension. But as someone mentioned in class today, ‘extrema se tangunt‘ – extremes touch each other – in the sense that perhaps America is so broke, that the debt might as well be zero, for no one, ever, has any intention of paying it back. As Stalin quipped, killing one man is murder, but killing a million is a statistic. The thing is, there’s still a million men dead.

Just so. All those trillions are someone’s money, of the hard work of untold millions. That has to count for something. And if it counts for nothing, well, we’re about to see what that means, and where that goes.