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Debt

Ludwig von Mises

The long-term public and semipublic credit is a foreign and disturbing element in the structure of a market society. The financial history of the last century shows a steady increase in the amount of public indebtedness. Nobody believes that the states will eternally drag the burden of these interest payments. It is obvious that sooner or later all these debts will be liquidated in some way or other, but certainly not by payment of interest and principal according to the terms of the contract.

Today there prevails a tendency to push banks and insurance companies more and more toward investment in government bonds. The funds of the social security institutions completely consist in titles to the public debt. As far as public indebtedness was incurred by spending for current expenditure, the saying of the individual does not result in capital accumulation. While in the unhampered market economy saving, capita] accumulation, and investment coincide, in the interventionist economy the individual citizens’ savings can be dissipated by the government. The individual citizen restricts his current consumption in order to provide for his own future; in doing this he contributes his share to the further economic advancement of society and to an improvement of his fellow men’s standard of living. But the government steps in and removes the socially beneficial effects of the individuals’ conduct.

In the days of Solon the Athenian, of Ancient Rome’s agrarian laws, and of the Middle Ages, the creditors were by and large the rich and the debtors the poor. But in this age of bonds and debentures, mortgage banks, savings banks, life insurance policies and social security benefits, the masses of people with more moderate income are themselves creditors. On the other hand, the rich, in their capacity as owners of common stock, of plants, farms, and real estate, are more often debtors than creditors. In asking for the expropriation of creditors, the masses are unwittingly attacking their own particular interests.

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