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        A Weakness for Irresponsible Expediencies

                                                                                                                              Earth Manifesto Insights

                                                                                                              Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

                                                                                                             October 2005

This essay concerns understandings relating to fiscal responsibility and social fairness and intelligent policy-making.  Consider these ideas from the frame of reference of our children.  It is at their expense, after all, that we are indulging in undisciplined deficit spending, and perpetuating Ponzi-scheme-like swindles and Buy-Now-and-Pay-Later policies and shortsighted policies disguised with Trust-Us-We-Are-Doing-the-Right-Thing reassurances.

Let us be honest with ourselves and with each other.  We have milked the deficit spending cow for just about all that it is worth.  We must soon begin to be more fiscally responsible, and bring tax revenues and spending into balance.  On a personal level, almost every family understands their own finances:  they work, make money, and spend almost all of what they earn, with distinct limitations on their ability to run up credit card debt.

Yet we let our federal government spend far more than it takes in.  We allow this shortsighted expediency, as if we can "have our cake and eat it too."  It is a fact that, even if the principal amounts we borrow are never paid back, the interest expense on borrowed money totals 100% of the amount borrowed every 14 years, at 5% interest.  This means that our children and all future taxpayers will pay over and over again for our weak-willed failure to balance the budget.  It would be one thing if debt were incurred for good purposes, like short-term stimulus to get the economy out of recession.  But it is foolish to habitually create debt to finance tax breaks for rich people and operations for military adventurism and undisciplined expansions of "entitlements".

It is a great irony that the party of political "conservatism" has been so corrupted as to now represent the opposite of prudent and rational decision-making in this regard.  It is amazing that the party that once represented discipline, integrity, and responsibility has now become the party of profligate spending, enormous national debt, rapid natural resource depletion, wild gambling with ecological well-being, and extreme risk-taking in the service of greedy Special Interests and war and reconstruction profiteers.  Bizarre!

It is transparently a deception to argue that deficit spending is prudent fiscal policy over the long term.  To the extent that deficit spending finances tax breaks for the wealthiest people today, it is effectively a wealth redistribution scheme from all taxpayers in the future to a privileged few today.  This is unfair to all who are not benefiting from the borrowing, like the poor, the working class, most of the middle class, and everyone in future generations.

WE MUST BEGIN TO PAY AS WE GO!  Our National Debt has increased more than 800% since Ronald Reagan took office.  We have been mortgaging the future to achieve the unconscionable partisan goal of benefiting a privileged and power-abusing elite!

If we adopt the fair and sensible policy of paying as we go, then this simple requirement will bring the budgetary dilemmas that we face into much clearer focus.  We can have as many new tax breaks as we like -- as long as we find enough acceptable ways to reduce spending to provide funding for them.  We can give as many subsidies to businesses as Congress can enact -- as long as we find ways to pay for them.  We can have all the pork-barrel spending projects that our representatives can cram into legislation -- as long as we, rather than future generations, really have to pay for them.  We can buy as many weapons and build up our military to as gargantuan a monster as our leaders frighten us into supporting -- as long as we find enough people willing to pay for it.  We can enact as many entitlements as we can afford, and help disaster victims as generously as we like, as long as taxpayers are willing to pay the costs.

Once all taxpayers are required to pay in full for government initiatives, citizens are likely to have significantly less enthusiasm for such things as bureaucratic waste, corporate welfare, tax breaks for rich people, pork barrel spending, new entitlements, and aggressive militarism.  For instance, instead of hiding the true costs of wars whose primary economic purpose is to control oil resources in the Middle East, the decision to support such aggressive wars would be clearer if gasoline taxes were required to cover the cost of war.  The cost of the occupation of Iraq would cost about $.60 more per gallon.  How eagerly would patriotic Americans be for Neoconservative doctrines of preemptive warfare once the direct correlation was established between the cost of war and the price of gasoline?

Let us also be clear about Social Security.  This is not a true retirement plan.  It is a wealth transfer program.  The federal government taxes workers today, and immediately gives these funds to older workers who have already retired, most of whom will get more money paid out to them than they ever contributed.  The retirees get a generous raise every year -- 4.1% in 2005.  And no matter how much wealth a Social Security recipient has, they get money from this system.  As a result, the system is trending towards eventual bankruptcy.  Not only are all current excesses of Social Security tax revenue immediately spent by commingling the funds with general tax revenues, but borrow-and-spend politicians then borrow hundreds of billions more through deficit spending.  We blithely spend Social Security retirement funds collected via payroll taxes.  It is astounding that the unfunded liability related to this disingenuous gambit has already grown to around $12 trillion dollars!

Privatize Social Security?  Politicians now propose borrowing thousands of billions of dollars more to make it appear that every cent is not already being squandered.  And this borrowed money would then be put at risk in a volatile stock market, creating a bubble whose eventual bursting will devastate those who are expecting Social Security to actually be a secure system!  This is fraudulent misrepresentation!  T borrow money creates liabilities and additional interest expense, not assets!

We can create wealth and prosperity best, say the radical Neoconservatives, by spending more than we take from taxpayers and borrowing the difference from future generations.  Yes, we borrow money from those very same saps whose natural inheritance we are so confidently wasting and depleting, while at the same time we are harming the environment.  Any honest accountant can tell you that this does not add up.  The debits and credits do not make sense.  It is, in fact, quite like the old swindle called the Ponzi scheme.  Those already retired collect money from current workers, and today's workers in turn rely on future taxpayers.  As more people retire, the ratio of retirees to current workers increases, and this money transfer scam will eventually really hit the wall, just as the original Ponzi scheme did in 1920.  This will occur when reassurances and trust eventually prove inadequate to mask the true fiscal foolishness and unsustainability of the scheme.

We are gambling with America's general welfare and national security!  Politicians, and conservatives especially, have made great capital out of the deceptively irresponsible expediency of deficit spending.  They show no sign of becoming more honest, or more responsible, or more accountable.  This is partly due to their clever and insidiously deceptive plan:  by creating enormous and growing debt, they automatically crowd out social program spending, which they revile as being rewarding to undisciplined, lazy, immoral people, i.e., the poor, the disadvantaged, the mentally ill, the handicapped, and others who often have not been given many opportunities in life.

They are quite right in one thing:  the portion of the annual budget that is devoted to ‘interest expense’ keeps increasing, and this limits the amount of funds available for other government spending.  In conjunction with the increase in interest expense and in military spending, less and less money will be available to address social problems and natural disasters.  This will make social problems worse and class conflicts and age-related conflicts more severe, as available funding diminishes and the injustice of Special Privilege politics grows.  America's problems will get worse, communities will be more neglected, education will be more under funded, infrastructure will further deteriorate, class strife will increase, and assaults on public lands and the environment will intensify.  

It is daunting to see the dramatic growth in the size and dominating influence of the federal government in the last 50 years.  Let us not be complacent and gullible any longer.  Our leaders are misleading us.  Let us demand more honest fiscal responsibility, balanced budgets, greater social fairness, and more certain commitments to the ecological integrity of our home planet.  We must make sure that our politicians are held accountable!


     Tiffany Twain