May, 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.

This work is part of the Cambridge Elements in Austrian Economics.