Government Shutdown – Will They, Won’t They, Should They?

“Money frees you from doing things you dislike. Since I dislike doing nearly everything, money is handy” – Groucho Marx

The Friday deadline is looming, the split houses of congress are dithering over billions in a deficit of trillions, posturing is at a premium – this time, they may actually “shut down” the government. We use the “scare quotes” because a shutdown doesn’t really mean a shutdown. “Essential” government employees will still go to work (and I suppose the government has a broad definition of who is essential). Furthermore, those who are out of work will likely get back pay for the time they miss. But, the grand theater goes on, services are shutdown, and posturing ratchets up even more.

First, let’s consider the numbers. The 2011 budget deficit is estimated at $1,650,000,000,000. That’s about $5000 for every man, woman, and child. On behalf of my family, the government will spend $25,000 this year more than they take in revenues. These are stupid sums.

The Republican led House has proposed $61,000,000,000 in cuts – 3.7% of the deficit. The Democrats howl that this is an egregious sum, and are demanding to meet in the middle, somewhere just north of $30,000,000.

Now, on budgetary matters, I have said a number of times that spending is the most important number, not necessarily deficits. The government spends money by either taxing the productive activities of the citizens, or by indirectly siphoning money through deficit spending, making everybody’s money less valuable in the process. Bringing down spending is the most important step – because the government spends money at a far less economically beneficial allocation.

Having said that, I also prefer balanced budgets to deficits, even if spending is high. This is a rather simple issue. To borrow money today is to expect the next generation to pay it back. If you prefer deficit spending to cuts in your favorite program, then you are OK with saddling your grandkids with bills you refuse to pay now. I know, we differ on the best way to balance the budget, the best way to raise revenues to cover the spending. Regardless of those disagreements – to  prefer deficit spending versus any tax increase to fund your favorite program, is to tacitly accept passing your bills to your kids and grandkids.

Is that the legacy we wish to leave? I predict that the children of generations X, Y, and Z will rise in unison to declare that the baby-boomers were selfish, self-centered, and lovers of themselves above all else. They will declare the boomers to be greedy, thieves, dishonorable – the destroyers of freedom, prosperity, hope. They will remember the bills the boomers ran up as they are struggling with the payments. Sorry guys, but the boomers were the one generation with the political might to change it – and they did not.

As for the aforementioned “it” – it is the system that has become corrupt with corporate control of tax code, government bailouts of private industry failure and corporate fat cats, and above all – entitlements.

And what about those entitlements? They are a trap. We hear it every time budget cuts are needed (as they are desperately needed now). This time it’s Barack Obama and Harry Reid harping about cutting programs that “so many people have come to depend on.” Umm, yes, they have come to depend on these programs because you have used these programs to enslave them, to strip people of their creative drive, focus, and impetus – and then trot them out as victims when we run over budget. They are victims indeed – they are your victims.

Of course, in the current flail, the big entitlements are off the table. No, right now we’re still fighting over paltry sums to NPR or PBS. Over this, a shutdown looms.

Just to reiterate, Congressional Republicans have passed a bill that would cut $61 billion – 3.7% of the deficit, and Democrats have decided that these cuts are just too draconian and cannot be stomached. Actually, they have decided that a shutdown battle is politically advantageous to their cause, and perhaps it is. But perhaps it’s not.

A new poll indicates that 57% of Americans favor a shutdown if it is a means to deal with the budget deficits. That, in case you’re not counting, is a majority; a decently healthy one too. If that poll bears out, then perhaps Republicans are asking for too little, and could push for much bigger cuts in the face of a shutdown.

Where do I stand? Well, I hold that much of government spending is, in fact, immoral. Entitlement and benevolent spending in a democracy represents a clear violation of the Golden Rule, and a subversion of the role of conscience in favor of elevating those in power to the role of God for enforcing moral behavior. On the budget front, I would like to see $500 billion in cuts for 2012 – just as a starter. I won’t hold my breath.

As for shutdown, why not? Desperate times call for desperate measures. The problem is serious and needs to be taken seriously. (Besides, it’s good political theater.)

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