Government debt, often called public or national debt, bears little resemblance to the debt that concerns us personally. As citizens, we appreciate saving and living within our means. We recognize the risks of excessive borrowing and the potential spiral into financial turmoil. It's a path we tread cautiously to avoid bankruptcy, repossession, and even imprisonment.

Government debt is fundamentally different. Instead, it is constrained only by the availability of resources. Understanding this concept flips the script on conventional wisdom and reshapes our understanding of government debt.

The Veil of Misunderstanding

Picture government debt as a complex tapestry woven with threads of government bonds. These bonds are the currency of government borrowing, pledging that the government will repay the principal amount and interest when the bond matures. Private banks and financial institutions eagerly embrace these bonds due to the government's unequivocal guarantee.

Yet, here's the twist: a government issuing bonds to raise funds is unnecessary when it commands the power to create its currency. Money creation once adhered to the "gold standard," tethering their currency value to a finite resource like gold, silver, or shells. Under this constraint, governments had to borrow to spend more than their collections, much like individuals. This borrowing was achieved by selling bonds to balance the books.

The paradigm shifted in the 20th century as many developed nations unshackled themselves from the gold standard. Currency creation now knew no bounds, a reality often misunderstood by most. Once essential, the issuance of government debt was no longer a financial imperative.

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The Purpose of Bond Issuance

A crucial question emerges: why do governments persist in issuing debt if they possess the power to create currency at will?

Government spending generates a cascade of digital dollars or reserves within the private banking system. Without the daily removal of these reserves, the overnight interest rate experiences a descent. To prevent this, the government steps in, conducting an orchestration of bond sales. These sales absorb the excess reserves from private banks and financial institutions, ensuring that the overnight interest rate remains harmonious.

This mechanism is not a fiscal necessity but rather a tool for interest rate control. Through the lens of this revelation, we discern that government debt issuance is a carefully calculated move aimed at maintaining a delicate equilibrium in finance.

The Political Quandary of Bond Issuance

Selling government debt, we now understand, is not a mandatory act for fiscal survival but a conscious decision with implications far beyond economics.

Imagine a reality where government debt issuance is a choice rather than an obligation. In this alternate universe, the machinery of interest rates continues to hum, and the financial system remains stable. In such a world, financial institutions could park their savings in central bank term deposit accounts, bypassing the acquisition of government bonds altogether.

With this revelation, the narrative shifts from fiscal necessity to political strategy. Government debt issuance becomes a method of economic stability and control. It's deliberate choices and calculated decisions.

The Myth of Debt Repayment

The question arises: who bears the burden of this debt? Brace yourselves, for the truth is liberating.

Currency-issuing governments wield the power to pay off their debt in the currency they create. When the bonds mature, their holders receive their due - the principal amount and the interest. This financial transaction transpires at zero cost to taxpayers, as it is merely an accounting entry. The debt's repayment is as uncomplicated as crediting accounts at the central bank.

Herein lies a fundamental distinction: the government's debt is not an anchor that future generations must drag. It's a component seamlessly woven into the federal budget; its repayment is merely digits in a computer. The grandiose numbers often evoke fear in the public discourse and are just economic management, and the fear-mongering is merely nonsense.

Untangling the Web of Misrepresentation

Government debt is not a phantom menace but a strategic tool intricately interwoven with interest rate control and political decision-making. It is a debt not borne by future generations but gracefully repaid through accounting mechanisms.

So, the next time a politician compares government and household debt, you can discern the truth. The language of tightening belts and living within means is not rooted in financial reality but political choices.

About the Author

jenningsRobert Jennings is co-publisher of with his wife Marie T Russell. He attended the University of Florida, Southern Technical Institute, and the University of Central Florida with studies in real estate, urban development, finance, architectural engineering, and elementary education. He was a member of the US Marine Corps and The US Army having commanded a field artillery battery in Germany. He worked in real estate finance, construction and development for 25 years before starting in 1996.

InnerSelf is dedicated to sharing information that allows people to make educated and insightful choices in their personal life, for the good of the commons, and for the well-being of the planet. InnerSelf Magazine is in its 30+year of publication in either print (1984-1995) or online as Please support our work.

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