The history of public debt is the very history of national power: how it has been won and how it has been lost. Dreams and impatience have always driven men in power to draw on the resources of others–be it slaves, the inhabitants of occupied lands, or their own children yet to be born–in order to carry out their schemes, to consolidate power, to grow their own fortunes. But never, outside periods of total war, has the debt of the world’s most powerful states grown so immense. Never has it so heavily threatened their political systems and standards of living. Public debt cannot keep growing without unleashing terrible catastrophes.
Anyone saying this today is accused of pessimism. The first signs of economic recovery, harbingers of a supposedly falling debt, are held up to contradict him. Yet we wouldn’t be the first to think ourselves uniquely able to escape the fate of other states felled by their debt, such as the Republic of Venice, Renaissance Genoa, or the Empire of Spain.