Monday, October 7, 2013

Runaway Government, Part I

As I type this, the U.S. is preparing to enter Day 8 of the government shutdown that has furloughed hundreds of thousands of government workers, shutttered offices and parks, and delayed or stopped benefits to millions.  Some folks are even being (temporarily) evicted from their vacation homes that are on Federal land.  What's worse, we're less than two weeks away from defaulting on debts, unless Congress passes a bill to extend the debt ceiling so we can pay those bills using money we don't have!  How did we ever get into this mess?  Is this what the Founding Fathers intended?

The reason we're running such an astronomical debt is that our government is spending way more than it is raking in. And then it pays its "credit card" debts with another "credit card." If the U.S. was a person, such fiscal practices would not be sustainable! Yet, we outspend our income an average of $30 billion a month! A previous generation of legislators had the sense to require a debt limit, presumably to reign in national borrowing, but that's just a paper ceiling, since all Congress does now is increase it whenever we need to borrow more. That's like me calling our bank every few months to ask for a credit line increase, even though I'm unable to keep up with payments.

This is a complex issue, with a very rich history.  While I do know some of the events that brought about the political practice of threatening to shut down government, as a tool for wrestling over bills and measures, this is not what I want to talk about.

What really irks me is how involved every level of our government has gotten into our lives.  One of the reasons this shutdown is making such big news is that so many people and services are affected.  When the Founding Fathers put the Constitution together, their intent was that the Federal goverment mainly provide for a national defense and represent our interests abroad.  Most of the day-to-day operation was left to the individual states, which were intended to be far more independent than they are now.  Congress met only a few weeks out of the year, leaving the states to handle their own affairs.

But over time, the Federal government took on more and more responsibility and collected more and more funds from the states, in exchange for additional services.  I have a theory on why this happened and what we can about it, so stay tuned for Part II....

By the way, the picture above has a very interesting connection to the current situation.  In preparation for this post, I decided to Google pictures of the Capitol Building in Washington DC.  When I saw this photo of the dome under construction, it surprised me, because I did not think photography was available that long ago.  But then I read the story behind it.  Turns out the original dome was made of wood.  In 1855, it was decided it was too much of a fire hazard, so it was torn down, and a new iron dome was commissioned.  When the Civil War broke out in 1860, the U.S. government warned the builders that they would not be able to pay them until after the war.  Surprisingly, the builders decided to continue construction anyway.  President Lincoln saw this as an encouraging sign that the nation would endure, due to the hard-working spirit of its citizens.  Ironically, Federal employees are now forbidden from working without pay.  Go figure!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Way cool insights!