A Philosopher's Blog

Dropping the 14th

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 29, 2011
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As the debate over the debt ceiling rages on, there has been more talk of Obama using an executive order to raise the debt ceiling. The constitutional basis for this is, of course, the 14th amendment and (presumably) the executive power of the president.

The constitution states that “the validity of the public debt … shall not be questioned”, which would seem to indicate that the debt ceiling would need to be raised on pain of violating the constitution.

However, a case can be made that raising the debt ceiling is distinct from not questioning the validity of the public debt. To use an analogy, consider the matter of personal debt. A person could, it seems, decide that she will not give herself permission to go further into debt while at the same time fulfilling her current financial obligations. Likewise, the congress could decide that the debt ceiling should not be raised while still accepting the validity of the debt. This actually has considerable appeal-after all, going ever more into debt is hardly a wise financial move.

There is, of course, a rather serious problem with that approach: apparently we cannot pay our debts without going more into debt. Going back to the analogy, the nation seems to be like an individual who cannot pay her debts except by taking out more loans. While this is hardly a desirable solution, it might be the only viable solution-at least in the very short term. As a long term solution it is certainly not viable.


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5 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on July 29, 2011 at 8:13 am

    “…apparently we cannot pay our debts without going more into debt.”

    Of course we can. Taxes can be increased immediately.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 29, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      That would help. However, it is difficult to imagine that the current congress would remove the tax cuts.

  2. jelillie said, on July 29, 2011 at 9:50 am

    A friend proposed this idea. Jason says, ” So President Obama should pick up a job being the President of a second country. A lot of people are working two jobs in this economy to pay down debt. It would be great for him to use the second income to help pay down ours.” 🙂

  3. T. J. Babson said, on July 29, 2011 at 10:28 am

    If Obama can unilaterally raise the debt ceiling, presumably he can unilaterally raise taxes as well. Since he supports raising taxes, why doesn’t he just do it?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 29, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      Interesting point. However, this would seem to go beyond the authority of the president. That said, there is no doubt some legal angle that would allow it (and a legal angle that would get him impeached).

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