Our Role in Public Debt



June 16, 2010

In the chapter of the Bible most often associated with civil government and politics, Paul urges us to “let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:8).

In Canada and throughout the world, people are demanding that their leaders provide more and more services even in the midst of tough financial times. But this kind of spending has consequences. Public debt is fast-becoming the number one problem facing many countries in the world today. Consider these figures:

  • Canadian household debt is over $1.4 trillion (averaging $41,740 for every person)
  • Our federal government debt climbed over $500 billion this year.
  • In the past year alone, our federal government had a budget deficit of $47 Billion
  • Canada (you and I) pays $84 million per day on interest payments for our debt.

When numbers are in the billions and trillions it is hard to put it in perspective. It helps to stop looking at the big figure and instead look at how much a public expense will cost you personally. For example, Ontario’s plan to fund full day and junior kindergarten is projected to cost about $1.8 billion. If that money were given directly to parents instead, it would work out to about $10,000 per child.

When we watch this going on, we easily get angered by the care-free spending. But we have to also look at ourselves and ask what we are doing in response to this trend. To put it simply, are we part of the problem or the solution? Being raised in a welfare state like Canada influences our thinking on finances. Even if we are very careful to live within our means when it comes to personal finances, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are applying the same principles to our public life. There are many times when we see the attitude in Reformed circles that “if the government is making it available, we should make use of it.”

There are consequences to this attitude. Not only do we end up forfeiting our responsibilities (by transferring them to the state), we also incur a huge public debt, plus interest, that our children and grandchildren will have to cover. In effect we are stealing from future generations to pay for what we want today. This clearly goes against Paul’s warning to not let any debt to remain outstanding. To add to this, we also can easily end up putting our trust in the State to look after us, which is really a modern form of idolatry.

What can we do to help change this welfare state mentality? Paul urges us to love one another. That may seem to not apply to this discussion. But if we give it further thought, it becomes evident that much of our public debt is a result of putting ourselves first. It is a paradigm shift to love others and live sacrificially, to emphasize our own responsibility over privileges and rights. This means that we have to make sure that we are not part of the problem by legitimizing increased state-intervention in parts of life that we should be looking after ourselves. We also have to send a loud and clear message to our legislators that we will not congratulate their massive public spending. On the contrary, reducing the public debt should be our economic priority.

It is often the combination of many individual decisions and choices that result in large-scale problems. Public debt is no different. Christians ought to be shining lights also in the way we chose to make use of, or say no to, government spending.

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