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“I’ll pay you back. Later. Really!”

Again suppose [French King] Louis XV … had said to the money lenders of Genoa, give us money that we may eat, drink, and be merry in our day; and on condition you will demand no interest till [our death and then] you shall then forever after receive an annual interest [from our successors] … The money is lent on these conditions, is divided among the living, eaten, drank, and squandered. Would the present generation be obliged to apply the produce of the earth and of their labour to replace their dissipations? Not at all.
To James Madison, September 6, 1789

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Honest leaders don’t bind future generations.
This comes from a long, complicated letter addressing the question whether the current generation can bind future ones. That binding could be through laws, a constitution, or debt.
In this excerpt, Jefferson suggested an outrageous scenario:
– Loan us money with no repayment during our lifetimes.
– We will spend that money on our own pleasure.
– When we die, our descendents will make exorbitant interest payments to you forever.

Would those descendents be obligated to repay? “Not at all,” said Jefferson.

Sound familiar? Are your children and grandchildren obligated to repay?

“Mr. Lee was able to engage the audience in remarkable ways.”
Program Coordinator, The Smithsonian Associates, Washington, D.C.

Invite Mr. Jefferson to engage your audience. They, too, will find him remarkable.
Schedule him today: 573-657-2739

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3 Responses to “I’ll pay you back. Later. Really!”

  1. Every elected official in America needs to read this message from Jefferson. This message should be read at every “Jefferson Day” event for the Democratic Party. (Republicans can learn from this lesson, too.)
    First thing I thought of when I started reading was “Detroit.” Other US cities are bound to follow.
    Of course this message applies to individual actions, but their spendthrift ways don’t affect me directly as a taxpayer.

  2. Ray Tewksbury says:

    That’s an interesting post, and a nice statement by Jefferson, but it could never work. If the government’s debts run up and left by our generation are not repaid by future generations, then at the time when the government became ‘un-responsible’ for its generations-old debt, it would have to be considered unreliable, and the loss of faith would require it to be shut down in favor of a new government. This would mean revolution and who knows what else. WE DO have to pay for the sins of our fathers, one way or another. Even the Bible confirms it. Sin (and borrowing) always has bad consequences…for someone(s), not necessarily only the sinner or borrower. Except that in Christ, curses due to our father’s sins can be broken.

  3. Thomas Jefferson Leadership says:

    Jefferson was adamant about the govt controlling its spending (even if he didn’t do so personally!) and paying its obligations. But he was just as clear that one generation did not have the right to bind a future one. He would call doing so a violation of natural law.

    The example he gave, I think, was meant to look ridiculous. His point was that each generation and each govt should live within its means. If that’s done, then there’s never a question of default, because there’s nothing to default over.

    Friday’s post will come from the same letter. He suggests that every bill and every tax should have an expiration date, to keep it from being enshrined forever by crooked or special interests. That expiration date should be no longer than the average life span of the current generation.

    I don’t think I’ve covered it yet but elsewhere he wrote that every government action that requires additional spending, beyond what’s in the treasury, should be accompanied by a tax to pay for it. And the tax should have an expiration. That might have placed Iraq and Afghanistan right in front of every American, if they had been charged a 10% or 20% surcharge on their tax bill to pay for the wars! But no … we want it now. We just don’t want to pay for it now.

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