Subsidizing Debt

Surowiecki wants to reform the tax system:

A debt-ridden economy is inherently more fragile and more volatile. This doesn’t mean that the tax system caused the financial crisis; after all, the tax breaks have been around for a long time, and the crisis is new. But, as a recent I.M.F. study found, tax distortions likely made the total amount of debt that people and companies took on much bigger. And that made the bursting of the housing bubble especially damaging. So encouraging people to take on debt qualifies as a genuinely bad idea.


The clearest hurdle to these changes may be political, but the bigger hurdle is, in a way, psychological: because tax breaks on debt have been around so long, we can hardly imagine what it would be like if we changed them, and we tend to underestimate their influence in shaping our behavior. Subsidizing debt seems harmless simply because we’ve always done it. But the fact that you’ve had a bad habit for a long time doesn’t make it less dangerous.