There was an infamous political commercial during the Presidential election year of 2012 which showed a character, who looked suspiciously like one of that year’s Vice-Presidential candidates, walking with an old lady bound to a wheelchair toward a cliff while she frantically struggles to stop him. At cliffside, he precipitously dumps her out of her wheelchair and she falls to certain doom below. It was an over the edge illustration of what any resulting entitlement reform might mean to senior citizens in America. Poor, poor, Grandma. Our hearts went out to her. What, however, would have been your feelings on watching Granny launched over that cliff if you had been privy to her setting a ticking time bomb under her sleeping grandchildren’s beds earlier that morning? Evil Bitch.
The ticking time bomb I refer to is the National Debt. Standing at almost $27,000,000,000,000.00, that many trillions is nearly equal to our entire National GDP. With impending increases to entitlements, and no end in sight to a majority of politicians who show even a small desire to reign in discretionary spending, that debt and its ratio to GDP will continue to rise in the coming decades.
What this debt will mean to future generations could be civilization altering. It is projected that within a couple decades (easily in most American’s life spans) the National Debt will be close to twice our GDP. This will make it increasingly difficult to find lenders willing to purchase our debt, at least at reasonable rates. As it is, at record low interest rates, in 2019 we payed roughly $600 billion in interest payments on the debt. We have since added trillions more to our debt. Think about all that could be done with the money from those interest payments – and what of the money that would be lost if (read when) interest rates climb to more traditional levels. The FED could keep interest rates artificially low or print money, but that leads to inflation. Are taking wheelbarrows full of cash to the store to buy food the legacy we wish to leave our descendants? Who will they blame? Who’s headstones will they want to topple?
As debt, and the interest we pay on it, goes up, the amount of spending will ultimately have to go down, along with increases in taxes. Decreased spending and increased taxes are a bad combination for the economy. Jobs will be lost, adding to the crisis. The economy will founder. Tough times will ensue for most. We might not be able to maintain the military we are accustomed to. Those who hold our debt might not like the loan defaults. They might remember decades of American bullying tactics, see America’s aging and weakening military and decide it is are ripe for an “intervention.” Then not only will our descendants economy be in tatters, but they get to have the privilege of having their homes burnt, their sons killed and their women raped. Don’t think it can happen? Both Greece and Rome were superpowers on top for a lot longer than America has been and their debt by entitlement ended them in not so pretty ways. When asked by Congress during a hearing on international terrorism what the greatest threat to our country was, a high-ranking general did not give the expected answer, naming some sort of group like ISIS. Instead, he stated that it was our National Debt!
Then Why is No One Afraid?
If our government’s spending is so jeopardizing our future, why don’t politicians lead the charge to change things? After all, we elect them to look out for our best interests. Don’t we? Alexis de Tocqueville noted that: “The American Republic will endure until the day when Congress realizes it can bribe the public with the public’s own money.” Congress has been very proficient at bribing the public. Rich, poor, Right or Left, there is ample graft for everyone. Everyone feeds at the trough, while politicians stand over us congratulating themselves on their generosity of feeding us all with our own money, after they have taken their cut, of course. We are more afraid of losing our place at the trough today, then we are of anything that may happen 15 or 20 years from now.
There was a time when Americans used to sacrifice themselves so their children could have a better future. Apparently, that is no longer the case. Being the beneficiary of the sacrifice of previous generations created a sense of entitlement in successive generations. Their votes now send waves of enablers into the ranks of our government.
What’s the Solution?
Obviously, if we don’t have enough money to pay our bills, we must either lower spending, raise taxes, or some combination of the two. I know of no other ways. Raising taxes slows the economy. Cutting spending makes constituents angry at the trough.
Even in years with tax cuts, government revenues have averaged a five percent increase per year, each year for the last twenty, (Wouldn’t you like pay raises like that?) yet our deficits spin out of control. It is clear our government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, and it must be brought under control.
There are a very limited number of politicians in America who take our debt seriously. They talk about Balanced Budget Amendments, but are drowned out. They set spending ceilings that are routinely broken through. They offer proposals that any program spending increases of a penny be matched by a cut of two pennies elsewhere, but are crushed in rollcall votes. These politicians are too few and far between. When they say, “We can balance the budget if we cut spending only to levels we spent in 2017,” their proposals are met with cries of “draconian” cuts that will sacrifice the most needy.
Every American family is faced with subjective “tough times” and are used to tightening their belt to a standard of living maybe they have previously moved past only a few years prior. Why cannot the government be held to the same standards as we hold our households to? Do we love our government more than our homes and families?
To be fair at the trough, it would seem the most equitable cut of graft would be objective, that is, every program in the country takes an equal cut of 1% to start. Nothing is spared – not education, not military, not NASA, farm subsidies, and not entitlements. Something tells me we will survive. Each year we cut another 1% until the budget is brought to a small surplus. We then use that surplus to, however slowly, pay down the debt for our descendants.
But, Granny Needs that Money!
No politician I know of has ever threatened to cut current payouts from Social Security. That senior citizens allow themselves be so easily hoodwinked by this simple misdirecting slight of hand is a testament to their need to be looked after. All the reform that has been or is being discussed lays in the future. Social Security can be saved (It shouldn’t be – but that is a different blog.) by changing the retiring age of people who are now in their 20’s 30’s and 40’s. Why can we not move retirement ages for people in these groups back just a couple years? Aren’t older people constantly saying 60 is the new 40, and 70 is the new 50? Yes! It’s true, because we live so much longer than we did when our out-of-date Social Security rules were written.
AARP fights changes like this tooth and nail. It’s easy for behemoth powerhouse interest lobbying groups to pick the pockets of future generations when they are still in grade school or diapers. Perhaps, someone should create the AAYP – Association for the Advancement of Young People – to fight back. To borrow a phrase from nail-biters at spending-cut , “Won’t somebody please think of the children?!”
We need to pull our faces from the trough long enough to see what the politicians are doing. We must replace the political enablers with representatives who will give us the tough news and do what is right. Who’s a truer friend, the one who tells you everything you want to hear, or the one who will tell you what you need to hear?
Fortunately, it is an election year! Find the candidates who will side with the all too few politicians at every level of our government who are willing to look past a little belt tightening today for a greater future for our children and grand children tomorrow. It’s only fair that we pay our own way. Will it matter to our descendants that that $287,000 medical treatment paid for by Medicare (It’s costs compounded by interest) for Granny at 87 years old, decades prior, kept her alive an extra year or two? No. They will say, “Granny died a long time ago anyway, but our country is now in ruins and my life expectancy is 58. Thanks, Granny!”
Is this the legacy we want to leave the future? A legacy of generational theft? Our loved ones with less of a chance to make it in the world, while resenting our memory to boot.
We made this debt mess. If a reckoning has to come, should it not be ours to deal with? Yes, it should. We can start by redeeming ourselves in the voting booth this November. Find out where your potential candidate stands on reducing the National Debt and a instituting a Balanced Budget Amendment. Don’t vote for anyone who says a spending cut under 5% is “draconian.” That is, unless you like the idea of your great-grand daughters getting raped by hoards of barbarian invaders.