The national debt has had its peaks and valleys throughout US history but there are two things I find troubling with our current level of debt.
1. After adjusting for inflation this is our all time largest national debt and it is still rising with no end in sight.
2. All the other instances of significant increases in national debt were triggered by wars, and in those cases the debt started declining again right after the war was over. Our current debt started shooting skyward in the early 1980s and the reason there is no end in sight is that there is no war to be over. This is the first time in our history that a major peak in the national debt happened without a war.
Throughout the 50s 60s and 70s we had good schools, one of the best health care systems in the world, a growing space program, a substantial cold war buildup, and welfare and social security along with other entitlements, yet we were able to pay down the huge national debt left over from world war 2 at a good rate and still had enough left over for the working class to buy cars and houses. Our national debt was on track to be eliminated in the 90s.
We need to look at the 80s to understand what caused our current debt crisis. I hate to use the word "crisis" but I think it's apropriate here because, unlike previous times, our current record debt is increasing during peace time. We can all rattle off our favorite sacrificial lambs for spending reduction but the problem isn't just a matter of selecting which programs to eliminate. The problem goes much deeper. It's systemic.
There was a fundamental shift in economic policy in the early 80s which corresponds directly to the rise of our current debt and I refuse to accept this as mere coincidence. Politics aside, we really need to ask "Is our current economic model sustainable?"