All Work and No Play...

I have to admit, I’m frustrated to the point of becoming angry. When I turn on the news, I see politicians doing little but blaming each other, spending money faster than they can print it, and clinging to the idea that the bigger the budget, the stronger the stimulus. It’s getting to the point that I understand what happened to Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie “The Shining”. No matter what I intend to write about, I find myself coming back to repeating the same line over and over again…

You can’t spend your way out of debt. You can’t spend your way out of debt. You can’t spend your way out of debt… All work and no play make Johnny a dull boy.

The United States has binged on fiscal sweets for so long that it needs a root canal. Yet, Washington seems to think that we can forego the dentist’s drill and skip right to handing out sugar-free lollipops. And when that doesn’t alleviate the pain, their answer is…more lollipops.  Will someone please tell me how we can expect to grow the economy simply by writing ourselves bigger checks? We’ve gone from the gold standard to the debt standard to a system where the Federal Reserve Bank is acting like Wimpy from the old Popeye cartoons: “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a cheeseburger today.”

You can’t spend your way out of debt.

Maybe I missed this in my economics classes in college, but if the deficit was out of control using the taxes generated from existing jobs, then how can you balance the budget by increasing spending just to create jobs that won’t increase the overall net tax revenue? Borrowing money to pay people to work, just so they can pay taxes that will fund their own jobs is like trying to create a fiscal version of the perpetual motion machine. The money spent will never match the taxes returned.

You can’t spend your way out of debt.

Is this really the plan? Is there some historical precedent for this working in some other country or is this some radical new idea from the same economic geniuses that brought us the hedge fund? The latest contribution from Obama is a request to institute a “pay as you go” policy. On the surface this sounds like a great idea. Congress couldn’t spend anything new if at first it doesn’t save the money from somewhere else. However, pitching this policy now is a little like the captain of the Exxon Valdez promising never to drink again. Not only does it have no realistic meaning now that we’re already measuring deficits in TRILLIONS of dollars, but, as proposed, it doesn’t even apply to many of the main areas of concern.

I know I’m already way over my usual limit for analogies, but bear with me for one more. The government is acting like a guy trying to impress his date by taking her to a four star restaurant. When he first looked at the menu, he knew it was way over his budget, but his date was impressed and he liked being treated with respect. Flush with confidence, and emboldened by the admiration of his date, the man orders an expensive wine, all the while telling himself “Well, I’ll just put in a few extra hours at work next week.” Now giddy with excitement, the man sets aside the last grasp of responsibility and orders the lobster for two. But as the waiter clears the dishes, reality starts to set in. Knowing he doesn’t have near enough cash, the man resigns himself to putting it all on his already stressed credit card. And since it’s gotten this far, he might as well complete the meal with a fancy dessert. After all, his date is really enjoying the evening. But then, the sugar rush from the crème brulée offsets the three bottles of wine, and the man realizes that his credit card will never handle the charges. But, now addicted to the attention of the wait staff, and enveloped by a desperate need for approval from his date, the man adopts the only strategy he can think of that might preserve his newfound vanity. He keeps ordering coffee. Because, he’s concluded, if the meal never ends, he’ll never have to pick up the check.

President Obama is the first to remind us that he’s not the one who made reservations at this restaurant. But for the love of Pete, would Washington please stop calling for the dessert cart?  The jig is up. It’s time to stop pretending and start washing dishes.

Yes, under the financial burden of war, our pocketbooks were run dry. But then we were force-fed the stimulus under the threat of double digit unemployment, which came anyway.  We were told TARP was the only way to keep the car companies out of bankruptcy, which still happened. And Czar after Czar after Czar is being named with the promise of greater oversight and increasing transparency, yet there’s no end in sight to the back room, business as usual wheeling and dealing among the Washington elite.

And now the focus is on healthcare. Well, forget about issues of quality, coverage, or availability. The real issue is that we can’t afford to have the discussion in the first place.  There’s no point in picking out curtains if the home is about to get repossessed. The fact of the matter is this: the government can’t afford to create any new services. They can’t even afford to extend the services they already provide. The Congressional Budget Office confirms it in the very first sentence of their review: “In the absence of significant changes in policy, rising costs for health care will cause federal spending to grow much faster than the economy, putting the federal budget on an unsustainable path.”

I guess it won’t come as a surprise to anyone if I tell you I plan on attending at least one Tea Party this coming July. I’m not sure what I’m expecting; I don’t know what good it will do. But I do know that I’m sick to my stomach and it's time to push back from the table and put an end to this date.

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Volume 5, Issue 13, Posted 10:40 AM, 07.01.2009