The national debt refers to the accumulated sum of money that a government owes to its creditors. In the case of the United States, National Debt refers to the total outstanding balance of loans, bonds, and other forms of debt that a government has incurred over time to fund its activities, including public services, infrastructure projects, and social programs. The national debt of the United States has been a matter of concern for many years, with some experts arguing that it poses a significant threat to the country’s economic stability and future growth prospects.
In this article, we will discuss the top 10 causes of national debt in the United States, along with examples to illustrate each cause.
One of the primary causes of national debt in the United States is wars and military spending. Over the years, the United States has been involved in several major wars, including World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the War on Terror. These wars have required significant amounts of money to be spent on weapons, soldiers, and other resources, which has contributed to the country’s debt levels. For example, the cost of the Iraq War alone has been estimated to be over $2 trillion.
2. Social Security and Medicare
Another major cause of national debt in the United States is Social Security and Medicare. These programs were designed to provide financial assistance and healthcare to elderly and low-income citizens, but they have become increasingly expensive over time. As the population ages and healthcare costs continue to rise, the cost of these programs has increased significantly, adding to the country’s debt levels. For example, Social Security and Medicare accounted for approximately 40% of federal spending in 2019.
3. Tax Cuts
Tax cuts are another significant cause of national debt in the United States. When the government cuts taxes, it reduces the amount of revenue that it collects, which can lead to deficits and increased borrowing. For example, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which reduced corporate and individual tax rates, is estimated to add approximately $1.5 trillion to the national debt over a 10-year period.
4. Economic Downturns
Economic downturns can also contribute to national debt in the United States. When the economy slows down, tax revenue decreases, and government spending on programs like unemployment benefits and stimulus packages increases. For example, during the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the federal government increased spending on programs like the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which contributed to the country’s debt levels.
5. Healthcare Costs
Healthcare costs are another major cause of national debt in the United States. The cost of healthcare has been rising steadily over the years, which has led to increased spending on programs like Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (ACA). For example, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the ACA will add approximately $1.7 trillion to the national debt over a 10-year period.
6. Infrastructure Spending
Infrastructure spending is another cause of national debt in the United States. The country’s infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and airports, is in need of significant investment to maintain and improve its quality. However, the cost of these projects can be significant, which can lead to increased borrowing by the government. For example, the American Jobs Plan proposed by President Biden in 2021 includes approximately $2 trillion in spending on infrastructure, which could contribute to the country’s debt levels.
7. Interest Payments
Interest payments on existing debt are also a significant cause of national debt in the United States. As the country borrows more money to finance its operations, the amount of interest it pays on its debt increases. In 2020, interest payments on the national debt were estimated to be approximately $370 billion, which is a significant amount of money that could be used for other purposes.
8. Entitlement Programs
Entitlement programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance are also a significant cause of national debt in the United States. These programs are designed to provide financial assistance to low-income and vulnerable populations, but they can be costly to administer and require significant amounts of funding. For example, in 2020, spending on entitlement programs accounted for approximately 63% of all federal spending.
9. Demographic Changes
Demographic changes, including an aging population and declining birth rates, can also contribute to national debt in the United States. As the population ages, the cost of programs like Social Security and Medicare increases, while the tax revenue collected from working-age Americans decreases. This imbalance can lead to deficits and increased borrowing by the government.
10. Political Gridlock
Finally, political gridlock and dysfunction can also contribute to national debt in the United States. When Congress is unable to agree on a budget or pass legislation, the government may resort to continuing resolutions or emergency funding measures, which can lead to increased borrowing and higher debt levels. For example, the government shutdowns that occurred in 2018 and 2019 led to increased borrowing and added to the country’s debt levels.
There are many causes of national debt in the United States, including wars, military spending, entitlement programs, tax cuts, economic downturns, healthcare costs, infrastructure spending, interest payments, demographic changes, and political gridlock. These factors have contributed to the country’s debt levels over time, and managing national debt will continue to be a challenge for policymakers in the years to come.