Here is Why We’re “going broke”

It’s tough paying your bills when there’s no money coming in.  It’s also tough when you do have a source of revenue but find it insufficient to keep your head above water.  Sure, you have vowed to never max out your credit card again after cutting it up but you’re still obligated to pay the debt lest your credit status is ruined.  But a lot of those bills are from health issues that you really didn’t have a choice about and the gas and food price increases that again are out of your control.  So cutting back on some expenses may put extra money towards lowering your debt but you still gotta eat, get to the job you’re still lucky to have and hope like hell someone in your family doesn’t get ill.

Sustaining a family budget on a fixed income is manageable most times unless an unforeseen crisis occurs.  In the event that tragedy does strike home, cutting spending in most areas often will not be sufficient.  When this occurs, unless you go out and find another source of income to keep up with unexpected and out-of-control costs, you will never clear your debt.

You can set around the kitchen table every night and try to figure what other necessity you can cut back on or eliminate to reduce your debt but unless there is more revenue coming in, it just won’t happen.  And yet this is what the conservative contingent in our state capitals and the U.S. Congress sets as an example for us as they cut back on financial aid for the least wealthy in this country while taking measures that generates less revenue.

There was a very cogent editorial in our local newspaper last Sunday that made a great case for those who think they can compare our national debt with a small family’s.

 We have long been tired of those who insist that government should be run like a business (or, in Texas, “bidniss”).

Now, some of those same people are putting a different condiment on the same rancid hot dog by saying the government should deal with its financial problems the way an American family would. We’re pretty tired of that, too.

No one would deny the need for sound business practices within government, but the idea that the entire country should be “run like a business” presupposed that the United States of America is a business, which it most certainly is not — at least not yet.

A business quite properly exists to make a profit; the government of the United States does not. It exists to provide for the common good and to protect the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights. Moreover, given the current moral standards of business — Wall Street wheeler-dealers, corporations that pay no taxes, companies that reward top executives with huge bonuses for laying off Americans and shipping their jobs oversees — we are leery of “business” as a model. If the way to fiscal security is moral bankruptcy, give us the poor but simple life.

Perhaps sensing that the government-as-business argument has a few holes in it, some supply-siders are now softening their argument a little, likening America to a financially strapped family sitting around the kitchen table discussing solutions. The solution, of course, is cutting expenses, living within our means and not spending more than we take in. It makes a lot of sense until you realize that it ignores another very solid business principle.

Denton Record-Chronicle, 4/17/11 

The editorial then points out how one family who had insurmountable debt from a serious long-term illness with one of their children.  After following the advice of our conservative leadership here in Texas, cutting every non-essential out and trimming other amenities to the bone, they were still unable to pay their debt down.  It was not  until they utilized most of their savings and found extra revenue above and beyond what they had been taking in before they saw some relief in paying their bills.

After the dad took on extra work beyond the 40 hour work shift of his regular job they were able to pay for the needed medical attention their child required and in time her health improved and the family returned to a more normal way of life.

Yet the state of Texas and the Republicans in the U.S.Congress feel that all we need to do is cut spending to reduce our deficits.  Rather than going after a lot of non-essentials first like a bloated defense budget and the corporate welfare that makes Medicare and Medicaid spending look like pocket change, the conservative legislators want to cut spending in areas that affect the general welfare of their least powerful citizens first while they take money out of the treasury with more tax cuts; tax cuts that only the wealthiest 2% truly benefit from.

A recent MSN Money Report by Stephen Ohlemacher points out an issue that brings into focus why our debt has increased and contributes to our inability to pay it down:

“[T]he super rich pay a lot less taxes than they did a couple of decades ago. And nearly half of U.S. households pay no income taxes at all.

The Internal Revenue Service tracks the tax returns with the 400 highest adjusted gross incomes each year. The average income on those returns in 2007, the latest year for IRS data, was nearly $345 million. Their average federal income tax rate was 17 percent, down from 26 percent in 1992.

Over the same period, the average federal income tax rate for all taxpayers declined to 9.3 percent from 9.9 percent.

The top income tax rate is 35 percent, so how can people who make so much pay so little in taxes? The nation’s tax laws are packed with breaks for people at every income level. There are breaks for having children, paying a mortgage, going to college, and even for paying other taxes. Plus, the top rate on capital gains is only 15 percent.

There are so many breaks that 45 percent of U.S. households will pay no federal income tax for 2010, according to estimates by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.”

Rather than pay-as-you-go, the U.S. has borrowed much of what’s been needed to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and two foreign wars, never asking anyone to make necessary sacrifices before it led to our dire economic situation today.  This along with the criminal behavior of top financial institutions that required a federal bailout back in 2008 has now left the American working class in this country to carry the weight of our deficit burden.

Rather than ending the Bush tax cuts to create the revenue that was eliminated 10 years ago, the conservatives in Congress thought that somehow this would worsen the deficit and chose to keep them in place.  The fact that this move in 2001 failed to increase employment above mundane rates, allowed greater income disparity between the haves and have-nots and failed to prevent the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930‘s seems to have gone over the heads of those with such thinking today.

Democrats wanted to keep these tax cuts in place for 98% of American tax payers while the economy was still struggling with worker wages and jobs but end it for the investor class.  Clearly though we would all need to make necessary sacrifices in due time to diminish the deficit.  A deficit that had it’s origins when the surplus we had before George Bush entered office in 2001 was whacked away in a few short years with deep tax cuts for the wealthy and the war in Iraq that was unnecessary.

So, explain to me again why we seem to be caving in to the advice of people who created this debt and lead by telling others to do as they say, not as they do?

I’ll finish off this commentary with an insight from the often little regarded Harry Truman who had a way of seeing things so much clearer than many of his political contemporaries.  The simplicity of our problem and the chicken little approach to curb it with more spending cuts was addressed succinctly by our 33rd President back in September of 1951:

“I would like to say a word to comfort and console those who fear that we are spending our way into national bankruptcy. This alarming thought has some currency in certain circles, and it is used to frighten voters — particularly as visions of elections dance through the heads of gentlemen who are politically inclined.

I want to say to those gentlemen who are spreading this story, “Don’t be afraid.” This is something that has been worrying you for a number of years now. It’s something you’ve been saying over and over again. It wasn’t true when you began to say it, and it’s has not been true as you have repeated it over and over since then, and now it’s further from the truth than ever.

The country is stronger economically than it has ever been before. Its people are more prosperous. After paying their taxes, the people have an average per capita income that will buy 40 percent more than it did in 1939, in spite of increases in prices. Corporations are making more money than they ever did and, even after paying taxes at the new high rates, their profits are running at an even higher rate than in any year except the record-breaking 1950.”


7 responses to “Here is Why We’re “going broke”

  1. When did it become popular to think that the country should be about “making a profit” and laying off those who the “corporate heads” deem dead wood. This is how I see the GOP now. They want a country that is in the black and they don’t care who they cut to get there. Apparently,the poor are a nuisance and a drain on our “corporation”so they need to find ways to get rid of them and the rich are never a drain and deserve extra financial benefits and the middle class are just there and because they have managed to survive, they can pick up the tab for the rich. A country is more than a balanced budget. A balanced budget is the least we should worry about leaving our children.

  2. The Right will jump all over the 45% thing….but they seem to forget that there are millions unemployed…that could account for some of that number…..does not the American voter have unsustainable debt? That is how one survives these days…..

    On another note, The debt ceiling debate is nothing but a silly political game……

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