The Biden administration’s $6 trillion spending wish list would add substantial new layers to the nation’s already massive pile of debt. Even with the president’s proposals to raise taxes, much of what he wants government to do will be charged off to future generations. 

But are those of us who’ve long worried about Uncle Sam’s red ink, and the bipartisan political indifference to its consequences, all wrong?

The Foundation for Economic Education’s Jon Miltimore writes we should be very worried about the debt, because history shows how destructive all those IOUs can be. Consider the example of ancient Rome:

…author Richard Ebeling explored how central planners in ancient Rome destroyed the economy.

A lot of what Ebeling describes—debt, massive spending, inflation, and price controls destroy—sound eerily familiar to modern ears. And Ebeling naturally explores the age-old riddle: why did Rome fail?

For centuries, as any history buff knows, thinkers from Edward Gibbon to Peter Heather and beyond, have asked this question. The answers vary. Some blame barbarians, others immigration. Some claimed Christianity was at fault, while others point to disease or the weakening of Roman legions.

All of these theories are interesting and worthy of examination, but I’ve found no single better explanation than the one offered by economist Ludwig von Mises who concluded Rome’s decay stemmed from its rejection of individualism and free markets.

“The marvelous civilization of antiquity perished because it did not adjust its moral code and its legal system to the requirements of the market economy,” Mises wrote.

Agree or disagree with Mises’ analysis, debt did play a role in Rome’s collapse, as well as the falls of other great nations.

That’s not to say the United States will topple in a heap over its debt. But it’s essential to remember that governments and central bankers do not get to decide how much debt is good or sustainable. Markets do. And market discipline can be quick, harsh, and deep.