When you’re trying to convince people of something, you need to speak in terms that they understand. Telling the American public that staying out of debt is a virtue is a lost cause. Pretty much every American has debt and they understand the benefits of having debt. In other words, simply arguing “debt is bad” is a loser. You could argue that “too much debt” is a bad thing, but too much is a pretty abstract concept when it comes to governments, particularly as it’s not clear to most people how they will be affected by the government having fiscal problems.
So how do we get people to realize that the government needs to stop living beyond its means? First, recognize that all Americans have debt. They have student loan debts, credit card debts, car loans and home loans. And the interest rate on these debts is tied to the overall interest rate paid in the economy. That is affected by the federal government. So why not argue this:
When the government spends more than it takes in, it needs to borrow the difference. The more the government borrows, the higher interest rates go. That means YOUR student loan rates, your credit card rates, your car loan rates and your home loan rates will go up. In other words, because the Federal Government needs to borrow money to study bees having sex or build power stations in Egypt, you will pay more on all of your debt.Isn’t that better than “the government spends too much”?
Now, some people may think this doesn’t matter because their rates are fixed. But guess what, you get hit in a different way. As interest rates go up, the cost of borrowing goes up, and the value of your home goes down. So when Uncle Sam borrows money because he wants to jack up his budget by 10% each year, the value of your home falls and the cost of all your debt goes up.
And that’s just the beginning. The cost of borrowing makes it more expensive for companies to operate. That means they hire less. That means fewer jobs. Fewer jobs means fewer options for you and lower pay. It also means the cost of goods goes up. Everything from gas to food to toys gets more expensive... all because the government can’t limit itself to the 25% of the economy it already takes.
Now let me add one more piece, since you should never assume one argument will sway everyone. This time, aim at the people who like government spending and really don’t care about the consequences:
When the government spends more than it takes it, it needs to borrow. The more it borrows, the more it pays in interest to service that debt. That’s wasted money. The money could have gone to pay for roads or teachers or police or helping the poor or the old. Instead, it goes to bankers. Every dollar the government borrows to pay for some pet project like bee-sex studies will be three dollars paid to bankers before that debt is retired. That is obscene. The government needs to stop sending money to bankers that should go to helping average people.Again, isn’t this better than “the government spends too much”? This argument not only should shock people that so much money is being wasted because of the debt, something they don't normally think about, but it gives our side an advantage in the crony debates because it makes it easy to attack Democrats by asking, “why do you want to give more money to bankers?”
Moreover, if it doesn’t stop soon, it’s going to run out of money and all we’ll be doing is paying debt... no more roads, no more teachers, no more benefits, just interest payments.
The point here is simple. Both of these arguments are the types of arguments that make people realize they have a stake in keeping the government in check. These are actual reasons people can get hurt by the debt, not theoretical reasons based on philosophical or ideological differences. These are vastly more persuasive arguments with regular people than abstract talk about fiscal sanity or living within means.