Monday, January 30, 2012

Imagine if Barack Obama gave you the $5,000 a year you're on the hook for...

I’m a huge fan of lotteries. It is one of the few taxes that citizens pay willingly. Spending a dollar for the prospect of winning a hundred million is kind of fun. And the fact that the state’s provide the fig leaf of responsibility by suggesting all funds go to support education makes players feel like they are doing their part to support the kids… Imagine, a way of taxing people that is actually voluntary!

Unfortunately however, most taxes are anything but voluntary, particularly those levied by the federal government. In 2011 the federal government took in $2.3 trillion in taxes. Not only did all of that get spent, but about $1.4 trillion more. And now Barack Obama is in charge of the spending machine. In the three years he has been President, Obama has spent over $11 trillion. That includes not only the $6.6 trillion Uncle Sam took in in taxes, but an additional $4.6 trillion that has been borrowed on your behalf, or at least for which you have the responsibility to repay. If we split that sum up amongst every one of the 310 million people in the country that would mean that Barack Obama has racked up $15,300 in debt on behalf of every American… in a mere three years.

I’d like to give that $4.6 trillion sinkhole a little perspective. Imagine that instead of that money going to failed green jobs scam companies like Solyndra or to university research departments to play World of Warcraft, something completely different happened. Imagine that on January 20, 2009 Barack Obama had knocked on your door, teleprompter in hand, and said “(Insert taxpayer’s name here) I’d like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to be your President. And to show my gratitude I’d like to give you $5,000 a year each of the next three years. Now, you’ll have to pay it back of course, but I’ll spread the payments over 30 years and give you an interest rate of about zero.” You think to yourself “If I don’t take the deal he’s just going to barrow it in my name and spend it on poetry readings or some such thing.” Deciding you could come up with much better places to spend the money, you respond “Thank you Mr. President. I’ll take the checks.”

Wow. He gives you the check. Now you have a $5,000 you didn’t have the day before. You start dreaming…”What am I going to spend my new found money on?” Well, if you were an average driver, who uses approximately 700 gallons of gas a year, you could pay for gasoline for the year and still have about $3,000 left over. You could then spend $720 on clothes, $1,000 on entertainment and still have enough left over to cover half of your healthcare expenditures. “Not bad” you think.

Now of course, that is just one $5,000 check. Given that the average American home has 2.6 people in it, the President quickly takes the $5,000 check back and gives you a $13,000 family sized check instead. You think “Wow, almost $40,000 over three years! Now that’s some serious cash!” At $13,000 the government just covered more than 80% of the total cost of what the average American family spends on housing. That’s pretty nice. At a rate that is lower than your mortgage as well. “This is going to be great” you tell yourself.

Then, suddenly, just as the President is about to leave you stop dreaming and start thinking about the big picture. “Mr. President! Wait! $13,000 a year for my family would be nice, God knows we could use it, but I don’t want to bankrupt the country or close down the government or endanger the national defense.” “Good citizen” President Obama calls you, “Don’t worry about that, we’ll make do with the just the $2.2 trillion or so we take in in taxes annually, which is, exactly what we spent way back in the ancient period known as 2004.” - remember this is a dream.

The wheels start turning in your mind… How different is your life in 2009 relative to 2004, and how much did a bigger government have to do with making it better or worse? Recognizing that the growth in government didn’t do much to make life any better over that time, you decide you can indeed live with a government budget circa 2004. “Ok, Mr. President, never mind, I’ll keep the money! Thank you!

Of course, that was all a dream. Unfortunately for you – and the rest of America – you are apparently too stupid to know what to do with your own money, or in this case, the money the government borrows but forces you to pay back. As such, no mortgage payments for you. No gas money, movie money, no check to cover your family’s annual food and insurance bills combined. No, unfortunately, while you are indeed on the hook for the money, guys like Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Barney Frank get to decide where all that money (and much more) goes…

Fundamentally that is the problem. And it’s not just money. Nor is it just the federal government. Increasingly it’s all levels of government and it’s seemingly about everything. Rather than parents being responsible for their kid’s fitness, schools have to ban burgers and pizza. Rather than drivers being able to purchase the kinds of vehicles they want, the government mandates auto companies sell cars no one wants and forces drivers to put inflation spurring ethanol into them. Rather than consumers and markets deciding what banks, and energy companies and health insurance companies should succeed, the government sticks its nose in virtually everywhere at almost every turn.

At the end of the day, few people could or would run their lives the same way the government runs the country – and unfortunately running the country is exactly what governments try and do. Fantasy budgeting and accounting, a distinct lack of accountability, a nonexistent correlation between success and continued funding, and a Pollyanna notion that all human problems and foibles can be obviated by government fiat.

Whether we get another four years of Barack Obama (God help us…) or a first term of one of the big government “conservatives” currently vying for the GOP nomination, voters should understand that the deficits and the regulation creep and the basic suffocation of the capitalist system that made America great will not be put asunder until we nominate and elect a President who:
  1. Recognizes that the power of the federal government is constrained by the Constitution, particularly the 10th Amendment;
  2. Understands that role of government is to do only those things which citizens cannot do themselves and nothing more;
  3. Has the intelligence to know where the line between the two is;
  4. Has the courage to tell voters to begin acting accordingly.
That doesn’t sound like too difficult a task. One wonders why the GOP can’t seem to figure it out.

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