… is from paragraphs 12 and 13 of Part I, Chapter 5 of the 1904 P.H. Lee Warner translation of Gustave de Molinari’s 1899 work The Society of To-morrow: A Forecast of Its Political and Economic Organisation:
For the press has found it more profitable to place its voice at the disposal of class or party interests and to echo the passions of the moment rather than to sound the voice of reason. Nowhere has it been known to act as a curb on the governmental tendency to increase national expenditure.
Economic reasons, the advances of industry and expansion of credit, have actively furthered the same tendency. During last century industrial activity increased by leaps and bounds, and the continual advance in the wealth of nations enabled them to support charges which would have crushed any other age. The development of public credit has also provided a device by which posterity has been burdened with a continually increasing proportion of the expenditure of to-day, and, in particular the costs of war have been almost entirely defrayed thus. Nor is this all. The present generation, or at least an important and influential part of it, has been interested in the system of spending borrowed money, since they reap the entire profits which result from the consequent increase in business, but are only required to furnish a mere fraction of the funds which must ultimately redeem these liabilities.
Plus ça change….
Of course, depending on your priors, you might assert that my “Plus ça change….” suggests that current levels of government debt really are nothing to worry much about. But the fate of western Europe in the first half of the twentieth century might also plausibly be interpreted as having justified Molinari’s pessimism and, hence, giving good reason for us today to be less blasé about government-deficit financing.