May 30, 2019

Public Debt as a Form of Public Finance

  • Richard Wagner

    Distinguished Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics and Economics
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Economists commit a category mistake when they treat democratic governments as indebted. Monarchs can be indebted, as can individuals. In contrast, democracies can't truly be indebted. They are financial intermediaries that form a bridge between what are often willing borrowers and forced lenders. The language of public debt is an ideological language that promotes politically expressed desires and is not a scientific language that clarifies the practice of public finance. Economists have gone astray by assuming that a government is just another person whose impulses toward prudent action will restrict recourse to public debt and induce rational political action.