Is Raising the Debt Ceiling Economically Sustainable?

Yesterday, an agreement was made between the President and Congress to raise the debt ceiling. It is expected to pass both Houses and get the President’s signature.  The question remains, is it really sustainable to raise the debt ceiling? If we hold true to the definition of sustainability as to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” raising the debt ceiling is not sustainable.  Sustainability is not just about the social and environmental aspects, but is tightly intertwined with fiscal and economic viability as well.

It’s interesting to note which party historically voted for and against raising the debt ceiling.  This year it is the Republicans who seem hesitant and the Democrats calling for the raise.  But in years past, these roles were reversed.  When the debt ceiling was raised in prior administrations, it was the Democrats who were holding out, and the Republicans pushing for a higher debt limit.

Regardless of which party is in power, I’d be against raising the debt limit anyhow. Raising the debt limit puts an unnecessary burden on future generations.

Debt is borrowed money.  It is borrowed in order pay or consume something in the present, and (ideally) repay the debt later. Raising the debt ceiling allows for “more” consumption now, and having to pay “more” for it later. The key word is later, implying putting the burden on future generations.  Raising the debt ceiling allows for more borrowed money.

Some folks may suggest that raising the debt ceiling is of dire necessity so we can continue to pay existing obligations.  Even historically, the debt ceiling has been passed every year throughout the past century.  But we can end this cycle of higher and higher debt. Let’s consider the role of time. Today’s existing obligation is yesterday’s future obligation. Every year for the past century, the repayment of debt has burdened the next generation.

Another way to think about it is using more natural resources today, without replenishing natural resources for tomorrow.

The generation of yesterday spent money they did not have, and pushed obligations to their future generation (us).  Debt, especially at the magnitude of government borrowing (trillions), burdens future generations, like past generations have burdened us with their debt.

We can make life less burdensome for the next generation by not raising the debt ceiling.  Yes, it will be tough to do so without cuts to many programs in this generation.  But living within our fiscal means by not spending beyond what we have and not taking on further debt, is a giant step towards economic sustainability.

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Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.