Thursday, July 12, 2012

Government Spending and the Responsibility of We the People ... It's Time to Pay the Piper

We the People and Controlling Government Spending ... Knowledge and Attentiveness Are Our Only But All Too Real Problems

F. A. Hayek said this about knowledge, "Knowledge is perhaps the chief good that can be had at a price, but those who do not already possess it often cannot recognize its usefulness."

We the People need to know much more about how our money is being spent by our elected officials. We then need to spread that knowledge throughout America about the debilitating impact of committing to future expenditures without setting aside sufficient funds for those commitments to be met. And we need to do all this at the front end --- not the back end --- of the process.

In other words, we need to stop government officials from promising "under-the-table" what's not going to be properly funded.  It's simply unfair to current and future taxpayers, as well as to those intended beneficiaries to whom the false promises are made.

Our kids and grandkids deserve no less from us.

There is a great deal of debate today about lots of topics. Examples like health care costs and ObamaCare, financing public sector pensions vs. adopting 401k plans, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, as well as ill considered government "investments" like Solyndra and such, and the forgiveness of home mortgage debt and charging less than market interest rates for student loans are but a few.

What the foregoing all have in common is our failure to fully pay for them up front. As a result, we now have deficits and debts that are out of control. And that makes us a weaker society, both financially and morally as well. At least that's my view.

So what's the "fair" thing to do? Well, that answer obviously depends on where you sit. Taxpayers rightfully don't want to pay for what they "unknowingly" promised, and beneficiaries rightfully don't want to have to give up what they've been promised but what hasn't been properly funded.

Accordingly, most states, cities, school districts, park districts and such are debating what to do about the promises previously made with respect to such things as teacher employment levels and pay, college costs, funding retirement benefits for public employees, including police and firemen, and vouchers for public schools.

How much will the workers pay to the non-workers going forward is a huge issue for We the People, because higher taxes on workers will mean a slower growth economy for America's future. That said, paying lower benefits to non-workers will mean broken promises and a slower economy as well. It's a damned if we do, damned if we don't scenario, at least for many years to come while we clean up the mess we've made.

We definitely are now in a state of chaos regarding the going forward and even current rights and responsibilities of individual public sector beneficiaries and taxpayers. And the questions to be addressed are big and have no easy answers.

Politically, our current mess isn't a Democrat or Republican issue per se.  While Democrats are more open about embracing government entitlements as a way to enrich the lives of all Americans, representing a view with which I completely disagree, Republicans have pretty much gone along on the nation's ride to bigger and bigger government over the years. Even though they may have complained while doing so. Talk and action aren't the same thing, of course. That's why we need to watch what people do and not simply listen to what they say.

Thus, I disagree with the actions of both political parties. Their differences are only a matter of degree and not of kind. It's up to We the People.

Meanwhile, the financial situation is demonstrably unaffordable for our cities, states and federal government.Tinkering on the edges of reform will only slow down, and not stop, the destructive path to excessive debt that we've been on for far too long now.

Perhaps if we begin to have a straightforward conversation in America about the untenable financial situation we're in today, we can decide how to fulfill our generational fiduciary obligations to our kids and grandkids. That's something which is both eminently doable and well worth doing.

Accordingly, we need to make every effort to get more of We the People to see that "we" are the solution to our nation's financial woes. And that big, impersonal and unaccountable government is indeed the biggest problem we're facing.

But that big government exists because we've been putting our expenses on the bill for many, many years. Now the bill is coming due and we'll all have to kick in to pay it.

Even more important, we'll have to decide how we'll not ask or even allow the governing class to make promises on our behalf that we're unwilling or unable to fund properly at the time the promises are made. The days of "turning a blind eye" to what's going on in government at all levels simply have to end. We the People must take charge of our country's future.

The "promises" that have been made can't all be kept, and many of them are making our wonderful country and society weaker as a result. It's time to stop the nonsense. At least that's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

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