Thursday, August 7, 2008

I really wish that kavips would stop writing things that make me think...

...because then I could spend my evenings reading trashy science fiction, like in the good old days.

kavips' latest is The Non-Partisan Issue That Really Matters, which covers the enormous budget deficit and national debt hanging over our retirements and our children's lives.

It is long enough that I can't do it justice in terms of a reply to every topic, so I am going to concentrate on just one issue, right after these short takes:

Agreement: deficit spending, both in our government and our personal lives is ruining the country. It is the dominant issue, the ugly issue that has to be dealt with. We have to--as individuals and as a government--save more and spend less.

Agreement: [allowing for some other factors] GOP budgetary lunacy has been a major factor behind the staggering growth of deficits. The Bush tax cuts might even have worked if they had been associated with budget cuts as well. But the Republicans (with full Democrat connivance) went out and spent and spent and spent to the point where I'd rather have a drunken sailor in charge of the finances.

Agreement: We're completely out of easy, painless options.

Mild disagreement: kavips' health care sentences are too pat and most resemble talking points in an otherwise excellent essay. To say We spend more than double per person, on health care over that from any other country on earth. We rank 23 of 26. We spend more money, we get poorer results, is both true and untrue. A lot of US health care spending occurs because many people actually demand too many services and have gotten out of the habit of having to figure out how to pay for them. It's a long argument that I don't want to have here, now, but I do think the statement is too simplistic.

Significant disagreement: I don't think--as much as we may want to increase personal savings--that it is either constitutional or wise to have the government mandate any particular savings rate. I don't even think such a program is feasible, because of the amount of control it would take (and I don't think you could trust our legislators not to find some way to borrow against it).

Overwhelming agreement: fiscal responsibility by the government has to be mandated--somehow. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain is actually talking about fiscal responsibility. My main point of contention with Barack Obama is that he actually wants to INCREASE the defense budget significantly, simultaneous with BILLIONS and BILLIONS and B-B-B-BILLIONS of new social spending. McCain's worse. But both of them are competing to see how many votes they can buy with targeted hand-outs.

Super-overwhelming agreement: The person who manages to address this issue and lead us out of this hole is the next great American leader. Unfortunately, that leader does not appear to be running in this year's election.

Enough of the snippets. Here's my main point of agreement (leavened as usual, kavips, with some disagreement just to make sure the muffins rise):

We can't depend upon the government to do it, so we're going to have to do it ourselves.

What is it we're going to have to do? Learn to live within our means and save some goddamn money.

If--and it's a far bigger IF than getting the last 30% of drivers to inflate their tires--if every American family above the Working Poor Line actually committed over the next year to doing whatever is necessary to getting back to the place where what comes in at least equals what goes out every two weeks, we would solve the problem because once Americans had put themselves through that pain they would stand up and demand their government do the same.

But I believe the people have to do it first.

Without providing more details (and hence, saving myself from divorce court), I will say that I now know whereof I speak. We've found ourselves forced in the past six months to a year to do what it takes to get down to where income and expenses match. We've cut things we used to believe were necessities (you have your own list; you don't need mine). Then we cut another 10% because that wasn't good enough. We negotiated with our creditors and cut up every single credit card we used to carry. That's right: all of them. We plan for emergencies now. There's liquidity available on our home equity line, but we set it up so that it required both signatures to access it, and at least 72 hours to do so. When that wasn't good enough to resolve some problems of short-term debt that had to be either retired or converted to more long-term debt, I took a second job to avoid borrowing more money.

This has not been a matter of virtue, but of necessity.

Our safety net is now our savings. "Eating out" is now take-out Chinese and the occasional trip to a buffet. Our kids got two weeks of camp this year, not seven. You know how this goes. We've looked each other in the eye on many occasions and said something heretofore unthinkable in years past about car repairs/technology purchases/new furniture/whatever: "That's going to have to wait until we have the money to pay for it." One car had to sit in the driveway for a week and a half because we refused to borrow money to fix it.

And so far we've had a better quality of life.

Because I no longer have that sinking-further-into-debt-without-a-rope feeling that used to be there in the back of my mind 24/7 like a bad tooth in the back of your mouth.

Because it actually feels good to talk with our children honestly about what we can and cannot afford, instead of worrying that if we tell them they can't have this or do that, they'll think we're failures as parents and they'll never get into good colleges, and....

You know the rest.

You see, kavips, I no longer believe that we will get government reform before we get citizen reform, and I don't believe citizen reform will come as a result of government regulation.

We'll get it when market forces, government intransigence, sheer necessity, and the American character combine in a moment of clarity for hundreds of millions of people across the country.

And then--unfortunately, only then--will American citizens take back fiscal control of their government.


Anonymous said...

In general I'd agree with you, and it is worth noting that the GF will have paid off her FIFTEEN year mortgage next spring...

I do use a credit card, but sparingly, and only for those things where cash isn't possible (car rentals, internet purchases, etc...) and pay the bill IN FULL every month, so no interest.

However unless you are saving gold, or some other form of commodity, I'd say that the best thing to do these days is balanced spending as opposed to savings - money in the bank is getting robbed by inflation, whereas purchasing items of value (not throwaway junk) is getting something for it, before you need a wheelbarrow to take the cash to the grocery store...


Anonymous said...

Here I was thinking I had finished, and having panned the blog roll, I was ready to call it quits, and then I saw your link. Oh, my. I paused and briefly wondered whether I should click and possibly tie up a couple of hours in a reply? Or sleep on it and look at it early in the morning.... Oh, well,I decided, a quick peak would never hurt....

We agree on some things.... Surprisingly I agree on this one statement..."kavips' health care sentences are too pat and most resemble talking points in an otherwise excellent essay."

Like bamboo, that single paragraph started to grow out of control on it own, and it took considerable hacking at the sentence structure with a machete, just to get a sentence that was grammatically correct enough to allow me to move on... (lol) Sometime later I may tackle that overgrown subject with a brush hog,

I think I agree with your premise that we can't wait for government to accomplish this, and that we have to act for ourselves. But we disagree on the mechanism needed to make it happen. Some like you have figured it our for themselves... but a presidential candidate is an opportunity that only comes once every four years. When he speaks, the media gets his message out.....

The mandated savings plan was principally designed to get conversations going among the population. The actual plan is open to the push and pull of politics. I can appreciate how it would goad a libertarian to be mandated to do anything to save his money. But, because of the size required to make a difference, I still believe it will require the Federal government's involvement, since it directly involves all citizens, their employers, their taxes, the foreign debtor nations, finding ways to cut a family's expenses by 10%,

As for personal responsibility.... when it comes to savings, trusting individuals to save enough,has failed miserably up to now.... (You being the exception which proves the rule). To change behavior on the magnitude required to make a dent in our deficit,I'm afraid it will take a lot of people in the streets, wanting it to happen.....for any meaningful change to actually occur.

Tyler Nixon said...

Both of youz (Newton and 'vips) is way too freakin' smart. It makes my head hoit sometimes.

If I ever get elected to anything of consequence (enough to have an actual staff) both of you better clear your schedules and your desks at your places of respective employ, if anywhere.