Suppose we get a balanced budget amendment, as some conservatives suggest. What would that mean?
To begin with, take a look at this chart of national budget deficits and surpluses, 1930-2011, from the National Priorities Project. The most obvious feature is the sharp plunge about 1940. It is the most unbalanced budget we have ever had. And the obvious reason we had it is that we had a national mobilization to defeat Adolph Hitler and Emperor Hirohito.
Now, consider what would have happened if a balanced budget had been required at the time. The answer is pretty clear: Hitler and Hirohito would have won. We can only imagine what the world would be like today.