I got on Yahoo news yesterday morning, and these cheery headlines leaped out at me:
- Oil tumbles on stronger dollar
- Unemployment falls to 8.8%, 2-year low
- Dividends come roaring back in 2011
- Stocks rise after unemployment falls to 2-year low
I thought all this was an April Fool’s joke because I wasn’t aware the economy was in such a rosy state. Then my husband came into my office and said, “Remember this acronym: SWUMM.”
“Swum?” I asked. “As in, ‘to swim’?”
“Sort of. It stands for Social Security, Welfare, Unemployment, Medicare and Medicaid.”
Before I could ask about the significance of these programs, he went on. “Do you realize that every single penny of tax revenue that is collected in this country is spent in just these five areas?”
I stared, aghast. “What about education? The military? Obamacare?”
“That’s all deficit spending.”
He was right. I got online to confirm. “This means,” writes Karl Denninger of Market-Ticker, “that even if you cut every other program to zero you cannot balance the budget because you must still pay interest, and it is obvious that you cannot cut defense to zero. Slash it, yes, but cut it to zero, no. … Worse, all the money taken in via taxes has been spent. It’s gone. Congress stole it and used it to make the deficit look smaller than it was.” [Italics in original.]
Even if the government cut everything else to zero, this doesn’t account for the interest on our debt – which comes in at over $400 billion in 2010. Not paying it off, mind you – just paying the interest. 400 billion bucks in interest. It is not possible to continue this course of madness.
To be blunt, we’re doomed. DoooOOOOoooomed.
I know, that sounds melodramatic. I was accused of this after last week’s column in which I related how my husband and I are no longer keeping any liquid cash (beyond what is needed for household and business expenses) but instead are putting all spare money into tangible assets, most recently a little Jersey heifer calf for our farm.
We have no faith – none whatever – that our economic recovery is “just around the corner” or whatever homey euphemism the government likes to use. Instead the Federal Reserve admits, “The United States is on a fiscal path towards insolvency.” No recovery in sight.
An entire nation defaulting on its debt is a frightening concept. I don’t like the idea of our standard of living taking a nose-dive. But with food prices spiking, gas skyrocketing and the housing market still tanking, what other kind of future do I see?
Oh sure, politicians are dressing up their efforts to get the budget under control with bold words and stern language. “We urge that the ‘Bowles-Simpson’ report … be the starting point of an active legislative process that involves intense negotiations between both parties,” firmly state 10 ex-chairs of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors. “It is tempting to act as if the long-run budget imbalance could be fixed by just cutting wasteful government spending or raising taxes on the wealthy. But the facts belie such easy answers. … The commission has proposed a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases. But even this requires cuts in useful programs and entitlements, as well as tax increases for all but the most vulnerable.”
Tax increases for all! Wheee!!
But it won’t work. Remember SWUMM? No matter how many spending “cuts” the government pretends it wants, no matter how much our productive citizens must bleed away more of their income, it won’t work. It can’t work. It’s too late.
“Every time the federal government has claimed it was going to eliminate a department,” Market-Ticker reminds us, “it has instead expanded it. The Department of Education, if you remember, we were told would go away under Gingrich’s ‘Contract with America.’ It instead doubled in size and cost within four years.” [Emphasis in original]
See what I mean? It’s hopeless. Useless. Just about the only way the United States can get out of the fiscal hole it’s dug itself into is to print money (which it’s doing, by the way) at such a rate as to make that money worthless. Do we really want a Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation here?
And that’s why we’re putting our money into tangibles. Once we own them, they don’t hyperinflate.
It stands to reason that the only real source of revenue for the federal government is us, the taxpayer. The only way the government can continue to fuel its insatiable appetite is by taxing us more, which in fact is continually the case. But where does it end? When we’re taxed at 100 percent? And even then, do you honestly think the money would be used to pay down debt? Get real.
I don’t think the yahoos in Washington have the faintest clue – not an inkling – of what it’s like here on the front lines of Real America. We must rattle the cages of our elected officials as much as possible, demanding fiscal restraint; we must scream and holler and send emails and march in tea-party rallies – but in the meanwhile, you’d better start taking some individual action. Sell the unneeded stuff. Pay off your debts. Take care of yourself.
While I won’t go so far as to recommend we abandon our vigilance opposing what the government is doing to ruin our nation, I am suggesting there comes a point when we recognize we’re banging our heads against a brick wall. What can YOU – Charlie Smith – and YOU – Martha Jones – do to keep our government solvent? Nothing. Not a thing. Zip, zilch, nada.
Remember, I’m not an economist or politician or banker. I’m a housewife. I’m writing this from the perspective of a bewildered and sometimes overwhelmed rural family. We’re just like millions of other ordinary middle-to-low income families in America bracing for an unknown future of hard times.
Every Charlie Smith and Martha Jones in our nation must batten down his and her own personal hatches for the upcoming storm … because soon we will be “swumming” in an ocean of debt and woe beyond our mortal comprehension.