Although the title is a paraphrase of the great thinker’s words, insanity seems appropriate in describing our current national economic policy of blind borrowing. Obama asks Congress to pass a national budget based upon: twice the increased tax rate he campaigned for, and fewer budget cuts… including more expenditure for ‘stimulus.’ Haven’t Americans seen this before? There’s a reason it’s called a, “budget deficit:” because ya can’t spend what ya ain’t got: we cannot keep borrowing from China… unless we want to become Chinese. The Fiscal Cliff? Insanity. Some members of Congress know that. OK: raise revenues BUT be fair and decrease entitlements by 1% or 2. Fair compromises. Balance budget deficits and revenues through humility and discipline… with everyone’s participation, especially leadership: Congress and the Executive.
(Note: America is in a production-consumptive imbalance– Americans consume way more than we produce. But that’s a whole other blog, so for now….)
How can it be that our national government is expending time and resources NOT resolving our seriously flawed economy– when you spend more than what you take in, the budget is flawed. Outcome: deepening debt resulting with a dim future. The American government is spending money it does not have. Budget proposals thus far seem like the same old, same old.
Look at it this way: using a credit card to buy a $1000.00 TV, but making only minimum payments drives up the cost and makes the debt unsustainable: ultimately, payments service the debt, not pay off the debt— and the TV really isn’t his: it belongs to his creditor. To make matters worse, what if the borrower keeps charging more and more stuff, without paying off the debt? Heirs will be burdened by debt, leaving their credit in tatters— with dim prospects.
That scenario is America: how we’ve incurred $16-trillion dollars worth of debt which compounds by the second. The American government keeps borrowing and spending more money than what is raised in revenues. No, this didn’t happen in one year or one administration– it is a collective bad habit that has gone uncorrected for a generation and longer. Your grandchildren– and mine– and our great-grandchildren will pay off our debt via higher taxes taken from their paychecks, which translates to lower actual earnings. They will pay a slew of expanding taxes, inflation (the ‘hidden tax,’) and social entitlement programs. Imagine your kids’ lives– when their take-home pay translates to 1/3 (or less) of what they earn.
Where does Washington spend our money?
The Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (cbpp.org) outlines that America spends 6% of the national budget on debt servicing: about $230 million dollars in 2011 alone—and we borrow to pay that! But, the question remains: why doesn’t our government STOP spending what we don’t have?! If I ran my personal budget like the government, the bank would be at my door– with the sheriff!
During my marriage, there have been a few times when my spouse and I had to reduce our spending by as much as 40% to balance our budget during changes in our careers. We’d brew a pot of coffee and sit down with calculator, legal pads and bill-book in hands, to hammer out a sustainable budget for our family. Keeping the family as our key focus, ego was put aside. We found all kinds of creative ways to cut expenses– no cable TV, trips to the movies, or impulsive buys. For a year, we kept the TV and radio OFF– and played chess, cards and board games while snacking on carrot sticks and herbal tea. We learned about ourselves.
Sometimes, I think America wastes our resources to “outdo the Jones’s:” as if we’re failures if we don’t overspend. But discipline (or austerity) is a teaching tool. Challenges always are. Our family discovered we didn’t NEED 300 channels on TV; we didn’t NEED to quell boredom through shopping; we didn’t NEED the luxury car—not if it jeopardized us. And, frankly, it would have been unfair to cut expenses for some, but not for everyone. On a national scale, sure, taxes might be expanded for some— if entitlements are sliced by 1% or 2%. Cut government salaries by 2% or 3%, and 4% or 5% for higher earners. EVERYONE should participate– executive, judicial and legislative branch employees for federal, state and local governments.
A personal family story taught us kids growing up about effects of the Depression of the 1930’s: two relatives (city workers,) were asked if they would prefer a 50% cut in pay—or unemployment altogether. They took the cut. The same scenario seems relevant today– except NOT a 50% cut in pay, but a 2% or 3% cut in pay… with the highest earners taking a 4% or 5% cut in pay. If the Executive asks high-earning Americans to pay more tax, it’s only fair that all Americans pay more. Walk the talk .
My spouse and I downsized when our business failed, making the transport of household goods so not worth it. We gave most of it away: relatives, friends, and after a yard sale, the local family shelter benefited. Among the truck loads, were 600 pounds of coffee table books: geography, history, fiction, world events. I suggested the shelter create an evening “reading hour” for families: no TV or radio, just families reading books– together. Because what happens is not as important as how we respond. Most of the world’s enduring writers and leaders sprang from humble beginnings. Children enrich themselves with the world of possibilities through books– no matter their immediate circumstances.
Americans are extremely generous: donating more than $300-billion dollars a year—more than 152 other countries.
This is a mark of how much Americans appreciate other human beings. Why would we re-distribute our wealth to total strangers? Perhaps we want others to benefit from American opportunities. It isn’t just for the tax-deduction… which may become a thing of the past anyway. And if the tax deduction does go away, it will be interesting to see how donations will be affected. But for now at least, Americans are a generous people.
America must also re-assess its foreign aid: it is unsustainable to continue giving away money to other countries, when we borrow money to pay our bills. The time for thinkers has come for a new national plan, taking into consideration all aspects of a healthy budget– not just those that make for a popular or political spin.
When it comes to life, when it comes to choices, when it comes to action– we must humble ourselves to new thought and new action in order to create new results.
Hence, the opening statement of Einstein’s definition of, ‘insanity,’ – repeating the same thing, again and again, while expecting different results. The same things again and again, are burying America– and others– in debt. Hence, I offer a call to a new action:
“Mr. President and Congress, please sit down face-to-face. Honestly and effectively compromise on the big picture: America. Americans need a government that functions: chaos only diverts attention. The truth is, every American needs to practice austerity, including you, Mr. President, and you, members of Congress. Practice what you preach; walk your talk. Lead by example. Find sustainable ways to reduce spending along with, yes, raising revenues responsibly: take a pledge to reduce a dollar of spending for each dollar of revenue raised. Here– I’ll start….
I, Suzy Right© 2012, hereby solemnly swear, to balance my personal budget and not borrow what I don’t have…. And to diligently pay off my credit card debt in its entirety…. that I will tighten my belt by not spending what I don’t have… and achieve the overall goal of fiscal thrift and economy while protecting my family and country, while giving continued support to my neighbors… so help me God.
Thank you. And God Bless America.”
–Suzy Right © 2012