This old post on the question of how to make sense of the claim that government debt places a net “burden” on future generations—the question of whether there’s an economic case to be made that supports the common claim that today’s public debt levels are an immoral burden on our children and grandchildren—generated a fair amount of discussion here. The issue has been revived again in a recent back-and-forth that some of our readers might find interesting. The latest round began with a post by Dean Baker, who said this:
A moment’s reflection shows why the debt is not a measure of inter-generational equity. At some point everyone alive today will be dead. At that point, the bonds that comprise the debt will be held entirely by our children or grandchildren. The debt will be an asset for the members of future generations that hold these bonds. This can raise distributional issues within a generation. For example, if Bill Gates’ grandchildren own the entire U.S. debt there will be important within generation distributional consequences, however this says nothing about inter-generational distribution. …
As a generational matter, we pass a whole economy, society and environment to our children. Unless we have given them a really bad education, they would be crazy to opt for a government with a lower national debt in exchange for a weaker economy, a worse infrastructure or more damaged environment.
Nick Rowe took exception, kicking off the discussion here. Brad DeLong responded to Rowe here; Mark Thoma responded here; and Baker responded here and here. Paul Krugman also weighed in, and then addressed the particular issue of foreign ownership of debt.