We just went through our primary voting this week. I was thinking about how we decide who we are voting for. For example, one of our candidates is engaged to a member of a large family in the county. Those of us who know anyone in the family were urged to vote for him. I had no idea politics or his position on finances or governing, but everyone around here supported him. The week before the elections, I had a chance to actually hear his opponent talk about what he thought the county needed and his position on the county’s financial status. I liked what I heard.
It made me ask myself, “What do I want from my government? What do I want from my elected government officials?” And, the last question I asked myself was the most telling: “Do I know what our government is really supposed to do?
What are the responsibilities and duties of the government? What are my (our) individual responsibilities? It is important to NOT confuse the two.
It is our responsibility to take care of ourselves and our families. It is also our collective reasonability to help take care of our communities. This is where government gets involved. We citizens, as a group, establish and maintain governments, through taxes and elections, to do those needed by the community as a whole: for example, maintain public roads, maintain a police force to protect us from this who cannot follow the rules of society, provide a court system to resolve disputes, operate and manage schools and other public institutions, and manage the finances to accomplish these responsibilities.
As the political entity becomes larger; i.e., from counties and cities, to states, and the nation as a whole; government responsibilities grow in magnitude and expense, but the principles of governing remain the same—the voting public has the last word on how we are governed and who we elect to do perform those duties of government.
“We the people” are the final authority for anything that the government does. I expect everyone—each and every voter—to pay attention to what your elected officials are doing, especially with regards to finance and budget items. This is not easy.
I suspect most of us have had “lean times,” where we were forced to make difficult financial decisions—how do I pay the bills, how should I spend my money, should I set some money aside for an emergency or a planned purchase, etc? We know that we can go to the bank for a loan—but only up to a point: that point is the limit to our borrowing power—our credit limit.
If a family goes in debt beyond it financial means, something unpleasant is likely to happen—wages are garnisheed, homes are foreclosed, automobiles are repossessed, kids don’t get to go to college, and/or families go bankrupt. These same principles (should and probably do) apply to government funding and spending. Governments collect taxes and fees from citizens and businesses—the governments’ prime source of income. Governments also borrow money, usually in the form of treasury bonds that almost anyone—and any other country—can buy. The Government pays interest on those bonds, again, usually through the collection of taxes and fees.
We have seen many examples of government entities—cities and counties—over extending their ability to satisfy their credit obligations and declare bankruptcy. To me, this is equivalent to the parent who cannot say “no” to excessive family spending and ends up in bankruptcy. There will come a time when our representatives are going to have to make those same hard decisions and tell one constituency or another “No” to some specific spending bill. Note: I realize that families occasionally encounter circumstances beyond their control, but I also believe that most bankruptcies were avoidable.
Let’s say you have borrowed as much money as the bank will allow. How would you like to be able to go to the bank and say, “I am going to raise my credit limit” and expect the bank to say, “Oh, okay. How much?”
In effect, this is what happens when the Federal Government raises the debt ceiling. Members of the Federal Government say, “We need more money to fund all of the programs we have enacted. We have to raise the debt ceiling.” My question is, “What happens when those representatives over-commit government spending that results in bankruptcy or failure to fund truly critical programs.
The answer to that question is basically, “Nothing!”
Parents have to be accountable for their fiscal management of family resources. But there is no real hard consequence to members of Congress when the Government fails to pay its bills. Hard working civil servants and even members of the military are laid off or not paid. Representatives still draw their salaries, get their benefits, and go home on time. Some even travel home on Government-furnished aircraft. Most of them do not even get voted out at the next election—they simply blame the other party, and they all go to the club.
We, the taxpayers will have to repay the debt. Perhaps our debt load would not be so great if we made a deliberate effort to identify and then elect fiscally responsible representatives and senators.
And here is what I see—now I am not an economist—but I can balance a checkbook and I have often had to say “No” to a good purchase or investment opportunity because spending the money would drive me too close to my “debt ceiling” leaving me no room for some emergency or truly essential unexpected expense.
It is my opinion—and this may sound harsh—but I think the current government (note, I did not say “administration” but that might apply too) has worked to make so many people financially dependent upon the government that these people have no motive to change the fiscal policies of the government, and therefore, not look for a way to work themselves out of government dependency.
This country was founded on people, not on Government. A sound republican (note that is a small “r”) form of government requires the participation of its populace. The populace is made up of individuals—all of us citizens. The premise is a populace-selected representative form of government established for the common good. It also requires that each individual contribute to the maintenance and operation of the government. In effect, the Government is a service—serving the people. It is not intended to be a means and method for distributing wealth.
Here is what I fear: I fear we are precariously close to Federal government bankruptcy. And I believe it will take very deliberate and thoughtful action on the part of some very intelligent, politically courageous representatives in government to pull us back from the brink of collapse.
Is that reassuring?
More thoughts to come!