Monday, July 18, 2011

Deficits, the Debt Crisis, and the Obsession with Dirt Cheap

 "...a USA Today/Gallup Poll released Monday found that two-thirds of Americans believe both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are putting their own political interests ahead of the country's best interest."

I also find it unsettling that the RNC is 17 million in debt while trying to tout itself as fiscally conservative. I don't want more taxes, but clearly something has been mismanaged if we've been deficit spending for the past 30 years or more. We can't just close our eyes, hold our ears, and start shouting "no new taxes!" forever. Now I can see how Republican party can be very aware of the deficit issue given it's own personal and current experience with it. It's fresh on their minds and they want to do something about it. Fine. We do need to do something about it. It's just completely mind-boggling that raising some taxes isn't on the table. I don't think we should have gotten so comfortable with spending more than we bring in that it's normally no big issue to raise the nation's credit limit. With that said, that's where we are.

This is a big issue across our society though. People are outraged that a dirt cheap video streaming service (Netflix) is charging $6 more a month for unlimited streaming and DVDs by mail, we find ourselves stunned that somehow 99 cent burgers and tacos go up 30 cents even though inflation probably should have dictated that rise 10 years ago. and we're just now figuring out that the massive shift to online shopping from brick and mortar stores is hurting local tax revenues in many places. We've gotten accustomed to dirt cheap without appreciating how that affects us. Yes other countries have cheaper products and services, but let's not forget something very, very important; People.

Yes, people. People that need to make a living. People that live next door to you or in the next town. Your family nearby out on the West Coast or North East. People. The cost of living moderately well in this country is drastically higher that other nations because we have a very high standard of living, or at least we did. That means we've got more money but it also goes around more quickly. The thing is that some have been skimming more off the top than others in the current of currency. Costs have been shuffled and shifted, we've been suckered in with the concept of "saving money" in the very process of spending it, and we've gotten a false sense of financial stability. Because these practices are so ingrained and we keep shoveling the burden to the next guy down the societal ladder we don't see anything wrong with something that is fundamentally unsound.

So yes, we've been spending more than we've been taking in as a nation (and for many, personally). Whether we agreed to all the spending or not, we're (mostly) all citizens and therefore liable. Given how upside-down we are financially I'd say it's entirely reasonable to both cut spending and raise some taxes. Why is that so hard to agree to?

People are scared of getting a larger than due burden. Small businesses are (probably rightfully) scared of being treated like mid to large business. Big business, trying to cater to investors are worried about getting hit in revenue and having less than consistently high or predictable returns that would hit its stock price, and individuals who are already stretched just don't want any more of a burden than they're already got.

But we've got to do something. Clearly there are many who aren't hurting anywhere nearly as badly as a good half of the population. The fact that we wind up going to the trouble to file taxes every year and get money back that we overpaid is a nice little bonus but for crying out loud, if we're so much in debt and that money is already out of sight, maybe we should just start contributing that "bonus" back to the national debt to start a long dig out of a deep hole. Lets try and get back to being a nation of producers as well as consumers. Let's try and even things out a bit, shedding the tragically narrow-minded idea that we should be a predominantly white-collar country and making sure that there is good work for people who like to work with their hands.

Politics have gotten ridiculous and I'm not entirely sure if it's the actual politics, the way it's presented to us in the media, or perhaps the more likely combination of both. There is a clash of culture to be sure, but there always has been to some degree. What we seem to be forgetting is that we're all created equal and that this nation is supposed to first and foremost be a land of opportunity. Options get limited when you're in debt. We need to take decisive steps to climb out it and unilaterally take on the burden we've saddled ourselves with. If there were parties that were more responsible or more profitable from the spending than others, in ways that weren't widely beneficial, they may very well need to help pick up more of the burden. One thing is clear to me though. Flatly refusing tax hikes in the face of decreased revenue is like the old story about the raccoon with his hand stuck in a trap because his fist is clamped around a shiny object he refuses to drop. Dropping the issue doesn't mean it can't be revisited later with better tools and a greater chance of overall benefit.