Watching American politics makes me wonder how the country can continue on its current path without serious and painful changes to government programs and layout. Americans want many things from their government (military, roads, social security, health care, rapid & massive response to manmade and natural disasters) while simultaneously not wanting to pay the taxes needed to support the government.
“Most of the public thinks, ‘If only the darn politicians could get their act together to cut waste, fraud and abuse, and to make tax avoidance go away and so on,’ ” Mr. Greenstein, head of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says. “But the bottom line is, there really is no avoiding the hard choices.”
David Leonhardt writing in The NEW YORK TIMES Economic Scene, In Greek Debt Crisis, Some See Parallels to U.S., describes the problem exactly. Any politician who ever tells the American public hard news is likely to find an unsympathetic electorate (One can think of President Carter telling Americans something has to change in our oil consumption habits). Leonhardt writes:
And politicians, spendthrift as some may be, are not the main source of the problem.
We, the people, are.
We can blame government and politicians, but our government is chosen by we the people, and we keep putting people in office who create what we’ve got.
As societies become richer, citizens tend to want better schools, better medical care and other government services. This country is following that pattern, but without paying the necessary taxes. That combination has us on a course to Greece-like debt.
What kind of spending cuts or tax hikes are we talking about? Current estimates say we need to come up with $1 Trillion in such changes today and in today’s dollars. Leonhardt points out:
Seven percent of G.D.P. is about $1 trillion today. In concrete terms, Medicare’s entire budget is about $450 billion. The combined budgets of the Education, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation and Veterans Affairs Departments are less than $600 billion.
So a plan is needed that would completely eliminate those departments and programs, or their equivalent! This is where I think those who say they favor reducing the size of government need to start presenting the hard realities of what they would reduce to stop the out of control deficit increase. Leonhardt’s proposal for coming up with $1 Trillion:
A plan that included a little bit of everything, and then some: say, raising the retirement age; reducing the huge deductions for mortgage interest and health insurance; closing corporate tax loopholes; cutting pensions of some public workers, as Republican governors favor; scrapping wasteful military and space projects; doing more to hold down Medicare spending growth.
In my estimation we need people to make concrete proposals with real numbers that total $1 Trillion, not just alarmist arguments for reducing the budget. We the people have to give courage to our politicians to start now proposing the $1Trillion in budget changes. If their ideas (spending cuts for example) don’t add up to $1 Trillion,then they are offering only pie in the sky and we need to tell them, it isn’t good enough.