To borrow from Monty Python, “And now for something completely different…” something more or less serious. My apologies to Jonathan Swift for the title.
When I began this blog, I had every intention of making regular commentary on the follies and faux pas of elected officials and the self appointed as well as formally ordained guardians of my morality/eternal soul/bank account. Hence the name of the blog and the subtitle. While I have written a couple of posts taking shots at those paragons of virtue and guardians of the public trust, I have discovered that my writing muse leads more frequently in other directions. Like towards my wife and family. There’s nothing wrong with that…they are wonderful subjects which provide me with a wealth of material…it’s just not what I expected to happen. Life is full of little surprises I suppose.
That’s not to say I have nothing to say about the goings on in Washington these days. Despite the fact that I am apolitical in terms of party affiliation (I think both major parties are the spawn of Satan Hell bent on lining their own pockets at the expense of yours and mine), I maintain an interest in following politics as a spectator sport. Not unlike following my father’s adventures/misadventures in serial monogamy or watching NASCAR...there’s always another spectacular wreck waiting to happen.
As most Americans not already living under rocks, bridges or cardboard boxes are aware, Congressional leadership has been busy buying the supporting votes of hold outs such as Senator Nelson of Nebraska who were standing in the way of the massive health care reform bill’s passage. As usual, political principle in Washington has a price. The question I always come away with is: Can we afford to pay that price?
I did a quick Google search on our nation’s debt this morning and was unsurprised to discover the good ol’ U.S. of A. has been addicted to debt from the very beginning (http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt.htm). In defense of the founding fathers, they had to pay for the revolution somehow.
That brings to mind a quick story I heard told by one of my college history professors. Supposedly, in the 1960’s when JFK was president, French president Charles DeGaulle attempted to hand JFK a bill for the money owed to France dating back to the American Revolution. JFK supposedly reminded DeGaulle of America’s costs in dollars and lives spent liberating France in World War I and II. DeGaulle is reputed to have graciously suggested the two nations call it even. I have no idea if this is really true or not, but I sincerely hope it is.
Back to our main story here. If you take the time to go through the debt archives, you’ll notice that the United States has never been debt free. Not once. Not ever. The closest we ever came as a nation to being beholden to no one was in 1835 when our national debt was a paltry $33,733.05 which was less than 10% of the previous year’s $4,000,000 plus debt and almost pocket change compared from the previous high water mark set in 1816 at $127,334,933.74. If it were only that way today, President Obama could ask his good buddy George Soros to pay it off out of the investment interest he makes in a few days. I don’t even want to think about what the inflation adjusted amount of those debt figures are.
On another note, take a moment to look at what was going on in history during some of the years when we had our biggest increases in national debt. Between 1860 and 1865, we went from owing a measly $64 million to over 2 and a half billion. Civil war can be a tad expensive when you weren’t saving back from your last paycheck. Between 1916 and 1919, we jumped from over $3 and a half billion to not quite $27 and a half billion. There’s that war thing again. The Great Depression didn’t help any although it wasn’t until FDR took office that we really started spending money like crazy. World War II, Korea and the Cold War were pretty expensive. Growth of the debt since then has been pretty steady with no one administration or event having a dramatic effect on the debt. I guess once you get past $1 trillion, a few hundred billion here or there just don’t cause the stir they used to.
Today, as a nation, we now owe almost $12 trillion dollars. Let me repeat that $12,000,000,000,000.00. TWELVE TRILLION DOLLARS!!!! The entire gross domestic product for the United States is only about $14.2 trillion, and the IRS only collects about a tenth of that ($1.36 trillion in 2007).
What is going to happen when we tip the balance on that debt to income ratio past 1:1? Nothing good I’m sure. At a minimum, inflation, which is already creeping into our lives. I’m already spending a minimum of 25% more on groceries than I was a year ago because of price increases. I know for a fact my paycheck has not gone up that much. At worst...have you ever seen or heard of a foreclosure or repossession of a nation? In my opinion, our nation is on the verge of bankruptcy and it’s only going to get uglier when our creditors decide they want some or all of their money. At gun point probably.
At some point very soon, we, as a nation, will have to balance our checkbook and get our budgetary priorities straight. As an individual, I have to make sure I buy food and pay the mortgage and utilities before anything else. It’s hard to enjoy a big screen television when you don’t have a house to put it in. As a Christian, I would love for us as a nation to be able to provide a comfortable retirement for the elderly and disabled (which I am, in fact, helping to do for my wife’s 93 year old grandmother) and universal health care to all citizens. As a proud American, I would love for America to protect itself from all threats foreign and domestic…preferably on their turf and not ours. As a fiscal conservative though, my Christian charitable desires and my nationalistic fervor come up against the cold hard reality that we can’t afford to do that as a nation without borrowing ourselves into oblivion.
And don’t get me started on the entitlement mentality. You don’t want me going there. I've got all the sympathy in the world for the elderly and infirm; but, if you’ve got most of your limbs and a functioning brain, shut up and go get a job. Put the bong down and stop having kids you can’t afford to feed and clothe while you’re at it. Oops, I went there didn’t I?
What’s the solution here? May I humbly suggest we get back to our national roots and reestablish some sound priorities like the ones laid out in the Constitution? If you haven’t read it in a while, I’ll help you out with the preamble:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.
Let’s see here, in one paragraph we have a blueprint for national priorities that should take precedence over luxuries like providing “aid” to third world dictators:
1) Establish Justice
I recall a bumper sticker that reads: “No Justice, No Peace. Know Justice, Know Peace.” This is a great priority to start with. Without justice, there is no domestic tranquility. Or much of anything else for that matter. In the absence of justice, there is only chaos and anarchy. Go look at parts of Africa if you need any confirmation of that. Justice requires equal protection not only under the law but also in the making of laws. There is too much influence peddling involved in the American legislative process as it currently stands. Just take a quick look back at the past two years and who got bailouts and who didn’t. You will find a political connection in almost every case. Our elected officials and judges must be ethical and above monetary influence and partisan politics. We, as their constituents, have a responsibility to hold them to that standard.
2) Insure Domestic Tranquility
We’re talking about law enforcement here which is an outgrowth of justice. Once we have fair and reasonable laws, they need to be enforced. It’s as simple as that. Punishment needs to be swift and fair. Those who cannot or will not play by the rules need to be asked to leave. Permanently. Put ‘em down for a dirt nap if necessary.
3) Provide For The Common Defense
The original framers of the Constitution were talking about the common defense of the several states collectively to avoid the problem of having competing state militias. They most certainly were not talking about initiating foreign wars to protect the interests of multinational companies more or less based in the United States. Or at least who have political influence in the government. Or in which the Congressional Pension Fund is heavily invested.
As a college graduate with a history degree, you don’t have to study very deeply to figure out that isolationism just doesn’t work as a foreign policy intended to secure our national defense. However, that does not mean America has to sign on as the world’s police force or become Jehovah’s Witnesses spreading republican democracy door to door. I've got no problem with the American military going into Afghanistan for the sole purpose of digging Osama Bin Laden out of whatever cave or goat herd he is hiding in and putting an end to that particular festering wound in the American psyche. Having said that, military action should be the exception, not the rule, in which we engage with specific goals (not deadlines) to be achieved or targets to be eliminated. Once those goals/targets are taken care of, we need to get out of Dodge and come back home. We don’t need to continue wasting money, energy and lives trying to make some forgotten spot of dirt into a democratic paradise which its culture doesn’t understand and will never be able to maintain.
4) Promote the General Welfare
It seems like a minor point upon which to fixate, but the word is “PROMOTE” not “PROVIDE”. Providing for the general welfare is a luxury not a necessity. If we can’t afford to pay cash, we can’t afford to buy it. Period. And we don’t need to saddle ourselves with a bunch of unnecessary and costly regulations either. If you want clearer air, give incentives instead of penalties for reduced emissions. If you want universal health care that’s affordable, start by encouraging people to eliminate fraud and waste in the system we have. Nowhere in this priority should the word “bailout” ever be mentioned.
5) Secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity
In my humble opinion, this one has to do with our nation, both the government and the governed, using common sense and not attempting to do stupid stuff we can’t afford. To quote from the Bible and be all preachy for a moment, Proverbs 22:7 says: “The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower is servant to the lender.” Romans 13:8 says: “Owe no one anything except to love one another…” Do you ever wonder why debt is described in terms of “secured” and “unsecured”? Securing our liberty and prosperity means owing no one who could come and take it away from us. If we own it lock, stock and barrel, no one can lay claim to it.
I know I have a relatively small readership, but that doesn’t mean my feeble attempts at political reform lack value. That’s where, you, my loyal minions…I mean followers, come in. If you like what you read and agree with it (more or less), pass it on to others. Now, go forth and convert the masses my merry followers and readers.