Checks and Balances

While I still don’t consider myself old, I think I can accurately say that I’ve been around the block a few times. I’ve seen and done things, and I’ve racked up more than a little life experience. Some good, some bad, and more than a bit of it questionably grey. That’s why I was more than a little skeptical when the government announced its economic stimulus solution a couple of weeks ago.




As originally proposed, the package would include several hundreds of dollars in cash to everyone not making more than about $75,000 a year. On the surface, this sounds like a pretty nice idea. Admittedly, if I end up receiving a check from Uncle Sam, for any amount, I don’t think I’ll have any conflicts of conscience in cashing it immediately. However, the announcement, while seemingly straightforward in offering help to the “common taxpayer”, set off more than a few warning bells in the back of my head. I understand WHY Congress thinks they need to intervene, but my concern is in HOW they choose to do it.




First of all, let me say that I believe that if this wasn’t an election year, there is no way this would have been pushed through so fast, let alone proposed in the first place. For the most part, this is little more than a last ditch effort by politicians to prove that they care for their constituents. Both Democrats and Republicans alike need us to feel good about our government right now to keep them in positions of power, and neither are willing to open themselves up to the political fallout of opposing what they see as giving money to those in need.




But let’s get one thing straight right from the beginning; it’s YOUR money that they’re giving back to you. It’s kind of like staying at a four star hotel and having management expect compliments for putting a mint on your pillow. If I’m paying the extra hundred bucks a night for the room, I damn well better get a mint on my pillow. And like getting a cash rebate from a car dealer, the only real question then becomes: If you’re taking several hundred dollars off without me even asking, then how much extra profit do you already have built into the price? Let’s face it, if times are really tight, then how can they all of a sudden afford to be handing out all this money?




But what really scares me is how much this reminds me of my days of hanging out in pool halls down in Dayton, Ohio. While I wasn’t a hustler, I certainly knew more than a few and watched them work their trade like true professionals. And one thing was certain, once they got a sucker on the line, they fought hard to keep them there. And rule number one was “you can shear a sheep plenty of times but you can only skin it once.” In layman’s terms, even the pool sharks knew never to try to take more than someone’s got to give. Like clockwork, every time a player was just about to cut his losses and walk out, the hustler would let him win a few games. False confidence suddenly restored, the sucker would proceed to loose it all back and more over the next few games.




And this is exactly how I see this “stimulus package”. The government taxes our income, our spending, our land, and just about everything else, and when the economy turns bleak, rather than risk having the public start to question their policies, they’ll try to placate us with a little cash in hand every once in a while, trying to keep us focused on our own spending rather than theirs. Like a magician, it’s all about misdirection, building an illusion of awareness and enhancing the audiences’ false sense of control.




Truth be told, with the grace of God, my family is actually doing okay financially. Yes, we have our share of bills, but with some hard work and some tough choices, we are actually making the climb out of debt. And the reason why is that when we looked at our own personal budget, we quickly realized that the only way to balance out a deficit is by either working harder or spending less. Charging rent to my 7-year-old just isn’t a feasible option. And borrowing from one credit card to pay off another doesn’t actually get us anywhere.




But this doesn’t seem to be a rule that applies to our Federal Government. Most of the time, they see a deficit as a shortage of income rather than a surplus of spending. And instead of trying to get more out of less, they opt for trying to squeeze more blood from the stone. While the notion of having the government constantly try to supply a safety net seems honorable, I’m of the belief that we’re much better off taking care of our own needs. I operate on the premise that people are basically good and given the opportunity, along with the money that they would normally funnel through the government, we as a society would excel at fulfilling America’s social services with private industry and through personal charity. Case in point, a study done by the Hudson Institute showed that in 2005. while the U.S. Government gave out about $28 billion in foreign aid, individual Americans acting independently gave about $33.5 billion.




The economy may well be headed for a recession, but if it is, trying to keep people happy with government kickbacks isn’t the way to turn the ship around. Instead, we the people need to start paying more attention to the hand that’s in our pocket rather than the hand offering us a check.

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Volume 4, Issue 3, Posted 9:12 PM, 01.25.2008