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In this quote, Ralph Waldo Emerson seems to be satirically commenting on the concept of national debt. By stating that solvency is maintained through debt “on the principle” of if you won’t lend money how can it be repaid, Emerson appears to be using irony to highlight the somewhat circular logic around government borrowing.
The quote implies that debt obligations are perpetuated by the need to take on more debt to meet prior debt commitments. Overall, Emerson’s tone suggests he is poking fun at how national financing relies on constant refinancing of existing liabilities, with new loans effectively “paying” old ones rather than truly resolving financial obligations. The dry wit points to Emerson viewing this mechanism with some skepticism or criticism.