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Visualize the Debt: Government budget battle was laughable

Levine is a first-year politics major and can be contacted at benjamin.levine@drake.edu

The American government needs a very serious wake-up call and the latest budget debate proved this to be extremely pertinent. With a $14 trillion national debt looming over America—to be burdened by future generations—Congress has made some serious cuts.


Well, not exactly. Although the media and current administration have focused so much on the supposedly harmful cuts, in actuality, nothing meaningful was accomplished. Republicans and Democrats alike are guilty of petty argumentation and poor decision making.

Here is a situation not unlike that in Washington (although the figures are not scaled in proportion): Imagine you and a friend have the luxury of receiving $250 a week and you may spend it on pretty much whatever you like. The money, however, is not technically yours. During week one of receiving the money, you and your friend spend $500 using credit. It’s easy to realize that spending hundreds more than what you have is problematic. Not only is it completely unsustainable, but also it isn’t even your money to begin with.

Lucky enough for you, a third friend lends you some cash to help out. But the next week’s situation is even grimmer: Although you and your friend still only collect $250, the both of you decide to spend $1,000. By the third week, when you plan on spending $1,500, your friend stops and says, “Listen, this can’t go on any longer. We need to stop spending so much.” It is ironic that now your friend says something, despite the fact that through the previous two weeks it was equally his idea as yours to spend in deficit.

The two of you sit down and discuss what to cut out of your spending. After intense banter and political debate, the two of you have a reached a conclusion: Instead of spending $1,500 that week, you will only spend a meek $1,400. Wait, what? It should be painfully obvious that the compromise reached did not put you and your friend in a particularly safe position. Rather, you would still be spending at a much higher rate than you could afford. The money you cut was not near enough to bring you back to even.

This is precisely what happened during the latest budget debate between the Republicans and Democrats, partially because the Republicans weren’t mature enough to let go of NPR and Planned Parenthood and start discussing real cuts in problem areas such as foreign policy. But the Democrats seem oblivious to the real need for any sort of cuts and therefore nothing substantial was accomplished.

The Washington Post very keenly pointed out that the $38 billion cut in future spending is the largest in history; however, that should not surprise anybody considering the government is spending at levels that are shattering previous records. Others deemed the cuts as near-apocalyptic and undoubtedly threatening to our nation’s future. But in all reality, the $38 billion was not enough. The cuts will only reduce the federal government’s budget by less than 1 percent and the major issues of entitlement reform and foreign policy remained untouched.

No matter how Keynesian you tend to be, people must recognize that the government’s current spending problem is not sustainable. Almost more importantly, though, it isn’t moral either. Accumulating debt on behalf of people who have no say in the matter—meaning young people like us—is by all means unethical.

Ambrose Bierce, a famous American writer, defined debt as, “An ingenious substitute for the chain and whip of the slave driver.” Look no further than the government to find that oppressor.


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  1. Ernie April 17, 2011

    Masterful treatment !!

    When will these truths be more self evident ??

  2. Concerned April 17, 2011

    Unfortunately, despite being right, your article falls of deaf ears. All interested parties are primping their peacock feathers for an election that is 2 years away and cannot be bothered by current financial strife.

    On the bright side, breaking a record at 38 Billion is better than breaking it at 37 Billion, it’s just too bad that current office has another record, that of raising the debt by trillions at a time.

    Our kids will inherit disparity unless, no, not unless. They’ll inherit it now, for sure.

    Oh look, Obama authorized another 4 billion in bomb droppings just now in ongoing war #3.

  3. blahbitty blah April 17, 2011

    Most of the folks at Planned Parenthood are there to get free diapers for their kids while they talk on their iPhones and carry around their Coach handbags. (Not kidding!) NPR, while I love it, and have donated to it … needs to be able to stand on its own. If that means it needs to run more pledge drives and air commercials, so be it. I find it irresponsible that I live below my means in order to save for retirement, but since the government has mishandled medicare and medicaid, they’ve created an ever-burgeoning medical system with sky-rocketing health care costs, amongst other stupidity-in-action things they’ve done. So, basically, they’ve spent the country into debt, and folks who have been responsible enough to save for retirement get to pay all that money for health care costs and live on peanuts. They need to either start legalizing prostitution and marijuana, or legalizing euthanasia, because at this rate, folks are going to need something to make them feel better or put themselves out of their own misery. There ARE plenty of options out there, and while the governments (both state and federal) can act moral and holy, when it comes to cash-crunch time they will need to get off their pedestal and start making some hard decisions. I give it 5 years before California fully legalizes pot, and uses it as a tax boost. Of course, in 20 years time, the kids currently stuck in the dumbed-down “no child left behind” program will then be out in the working force, with their lack of education that was dumbed down to the dumbest kids in class, and we’ll be in for a real treat.

  4. Mike April 17, 2011

    Well said. I’ve heard similar analogies from many people smart enough to eat and chew gum at the same time, yet our politicians absolutely refuse to speak of the 800lb gorilla in the room. It doesn’t matter if it’s a good or bad program, if it’s democratically supported or GOP supported, if it’s in our “national interest” ,etc,etc ,etc. WE ARE BROKE!!!!!! Someone please say it in the government and then do something about it to save our country. Special interests be damned, wars be damned, raises, inflationary adjustments, blah,blah,blah. if we can’t afford to pay taxes or no longer make enough to pay taxes. Guess what? All programs are gone. Period.
    There will be no such thing as special interests or fighting wars for our national interest when we can’t afford to buy bread with a dump truck full of useless US Dollars. People! Look, listen and engage your frickin’ common sense!
    If your waiting for the rich to pay for it and fix it. It won’t happen. We could take every dollar they’ve got and still not fix the problem. Furthermore when we begin going after every millionaire and billionaire they’ll simply take their ball and go play in another country. It sucks but that’s the way it goes.

    Arguing over planned parenthood, far right, far left, come on, drop the drama and pretense and the constant running for office mr and mrs.politican. Be a civil servant. Be a real patriot and help our country to heal from the poor decisions, blind greed, crony-ism . runaway unions, off shore job bleeding, horribly regulated futures markets and derivatives.

    Let’s get on with the business of being responsible adults.

  5. John Melvin Dodd April 17, 2011

    This is the most intelligent analysis of the problem I’ve seen. You correctly state, “Almost more importantly, though, it isn’t moral either.” I submit that the spending on Planned Parenthood and NPR also isn’t moral. In fact, all the unconstitutional spending by the federal government is not moral–it’s also not legal since it violates the Constitution.

  6. Tom Seaver April 18, 2011

    Good article. Very succinct analogy and good clarity on the main points you are making. Nice to see younger folks with such clarity. Let’s hope Washington takes notice.

  7. Taxes are not a “luxury” that the government receives due to of the generosity of the taxpayers. Taxes are what citizens pay for government services like the military, NASA and milk inspectors. Because of the free-rider problem (you took POLS 001, right?) things like roads and bridges would not work in a purely free-market system, so we take collective action (another APS concept, try to keep up) and pool some of our money so that we can have nice things that everyone can benefit from. It’s pretty simple.

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