Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Emperor and his Clothing Budget

How are we to spend our money?

Or, more accurately, how are we to spend our children's money? And our grand-children's money, for that matter?

I ask these largely rhetorical questions because I want to consider the recently introduced Federal budget for FY 2012.

What are we looking at? Some 3.7 trillion dollars, with a deficit of about 1.7 trillion. The budget is a model, though, because it begins to deal with the national debt. As it's been said, it begins to make the deficits "manageable."

Overall, it's claimed that the budget will begin to put into place savings of 1.1 trillion over the next ten years. That works out to about 110 billion dollars over that period. During that same time, the annual budget deficit is projected to vary from about 700 billion to 1 trillion dollars - per year.

This is "manageable"?

This is manageable in the same way that a burst appendix is manageable by continually evacuating the abdominal cavity of bowel contents and infection, and irrigating that cavity with sterile solution - in perpetuity! Otherwise, the person with the burst appendix dies.

Generally the treatment for a burst appendix is surgery. The damaged organ is removed, the hole in the large intestine is sutured up, and the surgical wound is closed, along with whatever necessary clean-up is required. This might be called an intervention.

From my perspective, the current budget is in need of an intervention.

For far, far too long we've been sold a bill of goods, by some very capable prevaricators. That bill of goods is this - we can have everything we want, and we can just put it on the credit card. And don't forget, the bank will just increase your credit limit if you need more stuff.

I think that more and more of us in the general population, though, are beginning to realize that this is just so much bullshit. You can not have everything you want AND put off forever the day when you must pay for it all. That day is rapidly approaching.

The best projections I've seen indicate that we may have, at best, another ten to fifteen years before the government won't be able to borrow enough money to run its essential programs. The budget will be almost totally consumed with debt service, and a few massively inflated entitlement programs.

Now let's step aside for just a moment, and take a slow breath. I've said in previous blog posts that I was going to try to steer clear of political commentary. I'm trying to do the same here, even though I am talking about things in the political arena. There's a spiritual dimension to this situation, and the fact that it's taking place in the cauldron of politics has no bearing on that reality.

It doesn't matter whether you're Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative. The reality that we need to come face to face with, that we need to own, because our lives depend on it, is this - WE CAN NOT HAVE EVERYTHING WE WANT, BECAUSE WE CAN'T PAY FOR IT.

Spiritually, we lie to ourselves everytime we think we can have everything we want. This is true on a personal level, and it's true on a national level. Reality does not support that mode of operation. There are limits to what we can have, and there need to be limits to what we try to acquire.

More to the point, there need to be limits to what we aspire to acquire. In other words, we don't need a lot of the crap we try to get.

Thousands of years of human history give the lie to the notion that we have to have a suburban home of 2500 square feet AND a lake house AND an SUV to shuttle between them, in order to be happy. We don't need these things to have soul satisfaction.

Isn't that what we all want - a feeling of contentment deep in our hearts?

I submit that this is the truth that shows up the lie of the modern consumer society. That society is built upon the notion that you won't be truly happy until you have the NEXT thing - the bigger car, the better house, the newer TV or home theater system - the NEXT thing. It's this quest for happiness that keeps the consumer economy churning out this year's stuff, and next year's, and that of the next year. We're good little economic citizens if we keep this cycle of acquisition and disposal going - we're doing our social duty.

The US economy is built on this model. It's no wonder that the national government operates on the same principle.

So - here's where the model falls down. When you have to spend more of your money paying for the debt you've incurred than actually buying things you need, you're pretty close to being ready to shut down. An intervention may be required.

That debt, by the way, is a debt that our children and grand-children will have to deal with unless we man and woman up and face the music.

The first thing I think we need is to get past the idea that any deficit is manageable.

The second thing we have to do is face the demise of some cherished ideas. For instance, conservatives are going to have to realize that you can not continue to support wars abroad if your tax revenue is insufficient to pay for them. The cost of these wars is not only the immediate costs of salaries, munitions, transport, and maintenance and replacement of all sorts of war materiel. The costs begin to really balloon when you consider long-term veterans' care, or retirement benefits, or reparations to foreign nationals, or foreign aid payments to governments involved in the collateral operations of that one little war. The Bush administration would present the costs of their wars to Congress as supplemental appropriations. At least the Obama administration has the guts to actually put them in the budget.

The consequence for conservatives is this - either taxes are going to have to increase to some degree (the heresy!) or their militarism is going to have to be brought under control.

Liberals don't escape from the blinding light of reality either. It seems a truism that they believe that any social ill can best be addressed by a government program of some sort. These programs generally begin small, but somehow, over time, they become mammoth entitlements, something that becomes a right, by God!

Their confrontation with reality means that they're going to have to realize that government can't solve all the problems that exist, and that it never will be able to. We can not afford to have a perfect society.

For anyone in the national government to say - with a straight face yet! - that the deficits can be manageable, means only one thing:

The emperor has no clothes.

Our political representatives strut around in their finery, even as they agree that the deficit is really getting out of hand, and refuse to face the harsh reality of what's needed to actually get a grip on the situation. Either we make hard choices now, or hard choices will be made for us down the road. I don't see any other way to put it. Deal with it now, or have it dealt to you later.

And all that finery? That's made of the same thing as their outmoded ideas of Laffer curves, and government programs, and even the delusion of conservative or liberal "truth." It's made of thin air, liberally laced with pretense and self-deception. The emperor(s) have no clothes - they're running around Washington, a bunch of wrinkly naked men and women, trying to impress those of us who are coming to know better.

Spiritually, we need to face the world as it is. We need to see through deception, the stock in trade of the Father of Lies. We need to realize our own finitude, and come to grips with our true needs, and how they differ from unlimited wants.

Until we do that, and act on it by our choices in the voting booth and our support or lack of same for political choices made on our behalf, we're complicit in the decline of this nation.

This is bigger than politics, a lot bigger. It speaks to the heart of what kind of nation we are. We were once warned about avoiding foreign entanglements. We're there now, entangled in debt of our own making. How do we escape? Can we escape? The future awaits with the verdict.

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