Famous last words. In a sense, the Reagan handlers were right: there were no more tears, no more complaints, because the principles themselves were quickly forgotten, swept into the dustbin of history. Deficits and the public debt have piled up mountainously since then, and few people care, least of all conservative Republicans. Every few years, the legal limit is raised automatically. By the end of the Reagan reign the federal debt was $2.6 trillion; now it is $3.5 trillion and rising rapidly [ed. note: $10.5 trillion, Oct. 23, 2008]. And this is the rosy side of the picture, because if you add in “off-budget” loan guarantees and contingencies, the grand total federal debt is $20 trillion.
Before the Reagan era, conservatives were clear about how they felt about deficits and the public debt: a balanced budget was good, and deficits and the public debt were bad, piled up by free-spending Keynesians and socialists, who absurdly proclaimed that there was nothing wrong or onerous about the public debt. In the famous words of the left-Keynesian apostle of “functional finance,” Professor Abba Lerner, there is nothing wrong with the public debt because “we owe it to ourselves.” In those days, at least, conservatives were astute enough to realize that it made an enormous amount of difference whether