Reith Lecture: 'We’re mortgaging the future of the younger generation'
Critics of Western democracy are right to discern that something is amiss with our political institutions. The most obvious symptom of the malaise is the huge debts we have managed to accumulate in recent decades, which (unlike in the past) cannot largely be blamed on wars.
According to the International Monetary Fund, the gross government debt of Greece this year will reach 153 per cent of GDP. For Italy the figure is 123, for Ireland 113, for Portugal 112 and for the United States 107.
Britain’s debt is approaching 88 per cent. Japan – a special case as the first non-Western country to adopt Western institutions – is the world leader, with a mountain of government debt approaching 236 per cent of GDP, more than triple what it was 20 years ago.
Often these debts get discussed as if they themselves were the problem, and the result is a rather sterile argument between proponents of "austerity” and "stimulus”. I want to suggest that they are a consequence of a more profound malaise.
The heart of the matter is the way public debt allows the current generation of voters to live at the expense of those as yet too young to vote or as yet unborn. In this regard, the statistics commonly cited as government debt are themselves deeply misleading, for they encompass only the sums owed by governments in the form of bonds. (...)