The Catholic world has heard a lot on the errors of consequentialism over the past few years. My friend and colleague Mark Shea,in his characteristically subtle way, has often and rightly highlighted the dangers and error associated with this type of thinking, notably as a justification for torture.
For the uninitiated, consequentialsm states that any act can be justified as long as the intended outcome or consequence is good. For instance, you can torture somebody as long you intend to save lives. Saving lives is the good intended consequence that justifies the torture. In short, the ends justify the means. As Catholics we completely reject this moral theory.
To do something wrong, no matter the intended or even realized consequence, is to do something wrong. Period.
I think this principle is often overlooked when it comes to the matter of public spending and public debt.
Let us start with the basics of debt. Debt, in and of itself, is not immoral. But to knowingly incur debt, to borrow from others, with no reasonable or foreseeable means of paying back a debt or with knowledge that the debt will eventually have to be paid by others is wrong. Period. It is stealing.
As a country, we are either rapidly approaching or have surpassed the point where there is no reasonable or foreseeable means by which we can pay the debt we have incurred and continue to incur at a startling rate.
I don’t think many, if any, would argue that to continue to publicly borrow and spend at the current rate, we will eventually have to default on some of that debt or find ourselves in a currency devaluation spiral that in reality is just another means of default.
Even if the debt spending were to suddenly stop, a dubious proposition at best considering current political will, a great portion of the repayment of debt already incurred will fall upon future generations that will see little or none of the benefit. Presumably, that generation will have its own pressing issues for which the fruit of their labor will be required.
This is wrong.
Yet any time …