Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Wrong Problem

America has a bunch of pressing problems. We have unemployment topping 9.2%, the national debt at around $14 Trillion, budget deficits pushing a Trillion per year and an economy that may have climbed out of the hole, but remains prostrate and panting in the dirt. Now one of these problems is key to solving all the others. No, it's not the budget deficits or the debt itself. It's the economy! As long as the economy is immobile we cannot solve any of the others.

It's easy to try and compare the federal government's budget to a business or an individual's finances, but it's also nonsensical to do so because there are significant differences. If you and I get into debt, our main options are to cut our spending or increase our income by getting a better or second job. Or better yet, both. So far so good, but here is where the paths diverge. For you and I, this is pretty much all we need to do, since we are only responsible for ourselves and immediate family. The federal government, however, must balance the needs of the country and the complex interplay of finances, services and policies that affect the entire US economy. Every cut you make ripples outward across the country and sometimes even beyond our borders. Now when the economy is cruising along, these ripples are fairly easily absorbed with minimal shock. But the more fragile the economy the harder it is for the system to ride out the spikes and dips caused by large changes in federal fiscal policy.

The thing that gets lost in the brain bleeding cacophony of the budget fight and debt 'negotiations', and I use that term loosely, is that none of this happens in isolation. It's all connected. When the economy is bad and the unemployment rate is high, as it is now, it's a bad idea to start cutting federal and state jobs like a madman. This only makes the problem worse by reducing the total jobs available and increasing those looking for work. Conservatives like to pretend that government jobs aren't 'real' jobs, but that's just part of the 'government is bad' propaganda they like to spew. These are real people doing real work. So while cutting government programs, and thus public sector jobs, will indeed reduce overhead costs what's forgotten is that this only takes them off the government payroll and puts them on unemployment. This means more people drawing unemployment checks and more people flooding the job market. So really, you're just moving them from one government ledger to another. Their drop in income will lead directly to more bankruptcies and more foreclosures. This also leads to less consumer buying and thus more pressure on companies who are seeing their sales of goods and services continue to slide. Inevitably this leads to more layoffs as companies hunker down to ride out the storm. Oh, and let's not forget that people out of work and not buying equals less tax money being collected, which makes federal and state budgets even worse! It's a very logical and vicious downward spiral that is often completely ignored in the press and on the Sunday talk show circuit. Partly because it's an inconvenient hiccup to the Conservative narrative and partly because it doesn't fit into a one sentence sound byte.

Yes, we have lots of problems and the debt is certainly one of them. But while it is a problem, it is not THE problem. The debt is not going to destroy anything today, tomorrow or next year. However, not getting the economy moving and getting people back to work only makes the debt issue more intractable and increases pressure on future deficits. None of this should be surprising. This is simple economics. Just basic cause & effect that anyone willing to use that ten pound lump on their shoulders should be able to work out. We don't need more anti-abortion laws or any of the hundreds of other things the GOP controlled House has wasted time on this year! What we need is action to resurrect our economy before it stumbles back into the abyss from whence it came!


  1. The debt may destroy a lot of things very soon. A downgrade of the nation's credit rating will mean higher interest on debt. When interest on the debt goes up the money will come from some where, voluntarily or otherwise. Many of those government jobs will then go away, the dollar will slide, inflation will set in and things could not improve for years to come. This is what we have to look forward to in the case of raising the debt ceiling according to S&P... "we do not believe that it likely will stabilize the U.S.’ debt dynamics, we, again all other things unchanged, would expect to lower the long-term ‘AAA rating, affirm the ‘A-1+’ short-term rating, and assign a negative outlook on the long-term rating". This is what is already happening as a result of existing debt as of yesterday... "Moody's Investor Service warned Virginia and four other states their AAA credit scores could be lowered if the federal government's superlative bond rating also is lowered". Virginia, where lawmakers do not have a spending problem and there is a surplus! Simple economics maybe, but let's not be simpletons [like Greece]. The debt is the most pressing problem because it will destroy the economy.

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