Peterson, the former commerce secretary, is on a...

PETER G.

April 15, 1994

PETER G. Peterson, the former commerce secretary, is on a crusade to persuade Americans that they have to make the sacrifices necessary to balance the federal budget. To that end, he has joined with former Senators Paul Tsongas and Warren Rudman in forming the Concord Coalition. He also has written a book setting out his case.

The gist of his argument is this:

"More than two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to James Madison in which he warned of the utter inappropriateness in a democracy of a value system that allows the debts of one generation to burden the next. The earth, he wrote, should by all rights belong to the generation alive at any given time. He observed that if one generation could leave its debts to encumber the next, 'then the earth would belong to the dead and not to the living generation.'

"Contemplating the issue of national debt, Jefferson urged nascent democracies to 'declare in the constitution they are forming, that neither the legislature nor the nation itself can validly contract more debt than they can pay within their own age.'

"Jefferson would be shocked, saddened and ashamed to see the $4 trillion noose of national debt we have put around the necks of our progeny -- not to mention the many trillions more in unfunded federal benefit liabilities we are passing on to future workers.

"We seem to have forgotten what Jefferson understood so clearly at the dawn of democracy in the modern world: To encumber the next generation with debt is to deny them the full measure of their freedom. To place the weight of these trillions upon trillions of dollars upon unborn children is to rob them of what Jefferson and the founding fathers promised us: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

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