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Ohhhh, you don’t know the shape we’re in

November 16, 2012

Americans have discovered the secret recipe for getting things they haven’t produced: government. Our nation was a fiscal mess before Barack Obama became president. It is a worse fiscal mess now partially because of his understandable unwillingness to lead on the fiscal issue. It will get worse before our country gets mugged by the reality that excessive debt is the not-so-secret ingredient for disaster for individuals and for a nation. Students of the liberal arts should recognize history, backed by critical thinking,  tells a convincing story when it comes to the bankrupting of nations. A fifth grader can understand this. Most Americans do understand this yet don’t care as they mistakenly believe it will be someone else who will experience the predictably disastrous consequences.

Most politicians—Democrats and Republicans–take credit for the spending that benefits their constituents yet conspicuously avoid mentioning the taxes or, most immorally, the debt used to pay for that spending. Can you point to one, just one, political ad in which the politician states anything close to “I’ve contributed directly to the five trillion dollar increase in the national debt?” It is beyond me as to how the “middle class” or any class will be better off because our politicians have spent absurd amounts of money obtained through the government credit card, i.e. issuing debt that will have to be paid off by workers.

Republicans are intransigent on the issue of taxes. The following sentence will disqualify me from having any non-zero chance of ever getting elected as a Republican. Our very broke federal and state governments need to raise taxes on everyone.  Even the lowest income earners need to pay something besides Social Security taxes so they have skin in the game when it comes to paying for government spending.

Government spending, always defended as “investment,” must be reduced significantly. Much of that “investment” has a negative return for the people who will end up paying for the debt used to fund it. Our country has been on a debt-financed vacation for over 30 years. Reagan took it to new levels. We never “starved the government beast” as Reagan had hoped while he simultaneously successfully argued for increased military expenditures. We’ve financed wars with debt. People are entitled to argue “Reagan won the Cold War” setting the stage for the “peace dividend” enjoyed by Bush I and Clinton. I think the rate of return on the wars in Iraq—a war I erroneously supported—and Afghanistan are very negative. We cannot afford anything close to the size of our current military. To save Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, government will have to renege on promises it has made. That previous sentence disqualifies me from ever being elected as a Democratic candidate. If our country is to avoid becoming the next Greece, we need to act like mature adults, admit we’re heading quickly towards bankruptcy, and take very painful but necessary steps to address our dire fiscal situation.

Higher economic growth rates would reduce the pain necessary but are unlikely to happen. K-12 education is a quasi-monopoly. Significant increases in inflation-adjusted per-student spending haven’t brought better educational outcomes but instead a bloated educracy that blocks educational reform needed to bring on long overdue competition.  “Obamacare” will not bring down health care costs unless we eventually ration health care by denying services previously covered. Businesses, sitting on a hoard of cash earning close to zero thanks to the government’s failed effort to stimulate the economy with artificially low interest rates, won’t invest. Until they do invest, unemployment will remain stubbornly high. Economic illiteracy is rampant. Those who lay false claim to the higher moral ground with stupid statements such as “put people before profits” are clueless as to how the profit incentive benefits society.  That illiteracy comes with a price for the human condition.

The epidemic of big, fiscally-irresponsible government demonstrates people are willing to support politicians who will help them at the expense of our children and grandchildren. This wasn’t supposed to happen in a constitutional republic. We now live in a country in which the Constitution no longer constitutes anything. Too many voters have an entitlement mentality. With 10,000 Baby Boomers retiring every day for the next 18 years, expecting to receive benefits which must, logically, come from the fruits of the labor of those still working, it’s going to be ugly.
This is the state of our nation.

Dick Johnston
Tough Guy/Associate Professor

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