By Daniel Pryor
In his 2005 Nobel Lecture, Harold Pinter identifies the ‘scintillating stratagem’ of language being ‘employed to keep thought at bay’ . Though the focus of Pinter’s polemic was the depravity of American foreign policy, one finds that his words resonate in discussions of other state activities. Intergenerational enslavement is commonly referred to as ‘government debt’ by political commentators, who are careful to distil the naked reality of ‘mortgaging the future of the younger generation’  into blander, more comforting lexis. Where is the government going to get the money to pay its creditors? You. Your future output is being used as collateral. In the words of Oxford Economics Professor Simon Wren-Lewis, ‘the current generation can use it [government debt] to take resources from future generations’ . This is widely perceived as being perfectly legitimate. I have seen the comments section of The Guardian website peppered with the sentiment that ‘our parents didn’t care about us picking up the bill, so we shouldn’t either’. The same appeal to tradition could presumably be used by Moctezuma II as justification for the Aztec practice of human sacrifice. Aside from neatly demonstrating the common logical fallacy of appeal to tradition, this ‘argument’ is obviously worthless to meaningful debate.
A recent estimate by the Institute of Economic Affairs estimates total UK national debt to be around £4.8 trillion , or £78,000 per person. The interest payment on this debt will cost £44.8 billion for 2012. This is around the same cost as fighting the war in Afghanistan. Twice. For the time being, UK borrowing costs are uncharacteristically low, as we are considered a comparatively safe haven for investors when compared to the beleaguered Eurozone. We are in a (temporarily) enviable position. Compare our borrowing costs to those of the Spanish government, who were recently forced to offer interest rates over three times as high as the UK in order to raise finance. Now is the opportune moment to take advantage of favourable market conditions and erase the stain of our national debt, defaulting before the cost of borrowing inevitably begins to rise again.
The issue of government debt is not just ideological. It has important practical implications. Even after making the erroneous leap of faith that stealing from the next generation is perfectly acceptable, a key question remains. Is it sustainable? The resounding reply is no. According to Paul Krugman, a prominent advocate of higher government debt, governments need only ‘ensure that debt grows more slowly than their tax base’ . Krugman cites the example of ‘World War II’, where the debt incurred ‘was never repaid; it just became increasingly irrelevant as the U.S. economy grew’. Au contraire, it was simply stolen from the American population under a different Pinter-esque misnomer: inflation . Furthermore, Krugman’s faith in the perpetual growth of Western tax bases is presumptuous at best and ignorant of economic reality. The future is inherently uncertain. Reliable forecasts of a demographic time bomb in the UK  place an enormous tax burden on tomorrow’s generation through rising social security payments and healthcare expenditure. Yet even in the fallacious Krugtopia, where UK gilt yields remain eternally low and the tax base indefinitely expands, the inescapable fact remains that national debt is enslavement of the young by the old. That enslavement is unacceptable.
Daniel is currently in the second year of Sixth Form study with a view to read PPE at degree level, and tweets at @DanielPryorr. He passes the time by raising tempers, playing guitar and drinking vast quantities of miso soup.
 I would highly recommend watching Pinter’s ‘Art, Truth and Politics’ video lecture. http://www.nobelprize.org/mediaplayer/index.php?id=620
 Taken from Niall Ferguson’s June 2012 article on public debt. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/9338997/Reith-Lecture-Were-mortgaging-the-future-of-the-younger-generation.html
 ‘The Burden of Government Debt’ by Simon Wren-Lewis. http://mainlymacro.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-burden-of-government-debt.html
 ‘A Bankruptcy Foretold 2010: Post-Financial-Crisis Update’ by Nick Silver. http://www.iea.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/files/upldbook516pdf.pdf
 From the modestly titled ‘Nobody Understands Debt’ by Paul Krugman. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/opinion/krugman-nobody-understands-debt.html
 In a recent televised debate with Professor Krugman, Congressman Ron Paul states in plain terms that ‘inflation is theft’.
 The number of people aged 85 and over is projected reach 5% of total UK population by 2033.