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The Burden of Debt: A Call for Fiscal Responsibility in America

Elected officials in Washington have once again agreed to raise our nation's debt limit, after months of arguing with each other. Real discussions of budgets and national spending have not been held in years -- meaning that any painful, yet effective, strategies have not been thoroughly explored, and elected officials continue to choose the simple process of paying off old debt with new debt.

It has been over 20 years since the government has had a fiscal surplus and used it to shrink the debt. While it is easy to blame this on the collective resolve in D.C. being comfortable with debt and inflation; in truth, our national debt is just a symptom of a larger issue, the acceptance of debt in our everyday lives.

At the end of the day, politicians reflect the opinions and habits of their voters. So, when three-quarters of American households, and every state, carries some form of debt, our federal politicians will gladly pay for things with more debt.

The trouble is, that while personal debt can generally be managed in good times and written off in the worst of circumstances, public debt just stays with our government, continually being rolled over and refinanced. Additionally, individuals can often take on extra work for a greater income, whereas the government can only adjust tax rates and fees in the hopes of raising additional revenue without harming the economy.

When the economy is strong, and tax revenues are sufficient, sustaining our national debt can be an easy task and politicians don't concern themselves with it. However, when things turn bad, and politicians urge one another to create new programs without considering the fiscal consequences, a starting point that has been sustainable, instantly becomes unsustainable. Until it is paid off, public debt will be, at all times, a hindrance to the nation and its people.

Each election may change the ranking of fiscal priorities at both the state and national level, influencing short-term conditions in the economy and government spending, but in order to ensure prolonged and substantial change, we, as individuals, must improve our own financial lives so that our local communities may become more economically sound, followed by our states and the nation. As we promote sound fiscal beliefs in our communities, our politicians will take notice, or see challengers elected in their place.

The future will always bring forth an occasional period of economic trouble, and it is better to have the financial capital on hand to weather the storm than to consistently borrow money and maintain rotating debt. Until we as a society become collective savers, we will be burdened with government budgets and debt levels that aren't right for America, but which reflect the poor habits we maintain.

Will Baker is a banker in Southwest Michigan, where cash on the table always beats a check in the mail. He has worked on several local political campaigns, holds a degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, has a passion for finance, and the imagination of a lawyer.

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