How Might the National Debt Be Related to Sustainability?

By Basak Altan

Financial, social as well as ecological sustainability are important macro economic goals. We have believed up until this point that as long as our GDP grows, our financial, social and sustainability problems will also be solved. Hopefully the world is eventually coming to a realization that this is really not the case. This continuous and endless growth is also contributing to the world’s growing sustainability problems.

The US’s national debt is composed of two main facets: First, debt accumulates as the US government spends more than it produces. Second, the US external debt is also identified as what the American people owe to other nations. While the US government’s debt rises as the government runs a deficit, it also falls when it runs a surplus.

There are various problems with carrying too much debt. First, large portion of the country’s income is spent toward servicing the debt rather than servicing social and environmental needs of a country. Second, although some of the interest goes toward US citizens this interest is paid by government to the wealthiest section of the society.

Thus increasing income inequality. Third, debt also creates a problem of generational inequity. Future generations will have to pay more interest because of government borrowing that is occurring today.

US is not alone in this turmoil. As I am writing this article from Turkey, the tabloids are discussing the issue surrounding the automotive industry’s importance for an economic recovery. For economic recovery, the Turkish government has lowered the taxes on purchasing new automobiles to a point where the auto dealers have run out of inventory. In a country with a large population living in cities, parking and infrastructure to support this many automobiles is a large issue. Although the oil pipeline goes right through Turkey, fuel prices are one of the highest in the world.

It is also ironic that the national energy policy is supporting very similar actions to US: In a mostly sunny country where three sides are covered with sea, sea-transportation is not used as often as the oil intensive trucking and bus industry when the existing historical train routes remain dusty. While talks about an environmentally invasive autobahn linger, a high-speed train concept is not even on the agenda.

And while there is large potential of solar energy, Turkey is importing natural gas from Russia and Iran with large debts accumulating that caused some of the population to remain stranded last winter with no heat.

Following the US’s path of debt intensive false economic, transportation and energy policies growing national debt not only impacts the country’s existing generation but also is stealing from its future generations in their ability to enjoy its natural resources. It is not surprising that Turkey also houses a large portion of the world’s most wealthiest billionaires, and we wonder why…

Clearly our false concept of GDP growth, and national debt is indirectly proportional to financial, social and ecological sustainability, no matter what part of the world we live in.
Basak Altan is an industrial designer living in Berkeley, CA. She is currently an MBA student at Presidio Graduate School traveling in Turkey and conducting sustainable projects.

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