Money-No-Object Governance

“And to preserve [people’s] independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude.”  –Thomas Jefferson

With every debt milestone we bound over, it’s interesting to turn a fleeting gaze backwards to elicit the attitudes our national forefathers possessed regarding the nature of public indebtedness and the consequences thereof. What’s unfortunate at times is that the erudition our founders exuded on this score–among others–is increasingly dismissed by the Left as the quaint musings of philosophies supposedly rendered obsolete by the passage of time and advancement of society. Anyone taking an originalist interpretation of the Second Amendment understands this well, indeed.

Meanwhile the Right, who quite agree with Jefferson, are nonetheless ever more likely to solemnly nod in acquiescence, lamenting that the inertia we find ourselves in is formidable, and almost self-sustaining. After all, it’s one thing to see the writing on the wall, but quite another to convince those nonplussed over such levels of indebtedness in the first place that the message was written for them, too.

Economy and liberty. Profusion and servitude. The eternal dance. Ever the former competes with the latter, which was why to Jefferson, the accumulation of public debt had all the attractiveness of a lanced boil: a nation intent on buying itself stuff without immediately dispensing of the costs threatened liberty, both currently and, most insidiously, in posterity. Jefferson’s admonition was never limited to bygone eras; what was true then remains so today.

I bring up the aforementioned quote as a primer in light of recent news that our national debt has passed yet another grim milestone, eclipsing $18 trillion in the last week or so. This level of debt has never been attempted by an advanced nation before. Ever. To many people, a quantity like “trillion” has always been inaccessibly large, meaningless except to scientists or other dreamers who invent such words to give context to big ideas.

So, let’s put it in relatable terms. A $1 bill is about .0043 inches thick. If one were to take 18 trillion of those bills–representing the entirety of debt currently held by taxpayers–and stack them on top of each other, the resulting column would stretch to the moon and back. Two and a half times.

Which brings us back to Jefferson’s quote. My point is that our debt, beyond being a rallying point for limited government types alone, bears consequences for everyone. If ever a country under such ruinous fiscal circumstances seeks to climb it’s way out, at some point, liberties will be strained. Taxation necessarily increases, deep across-the-board spending cuts are instituted, benefits under social programs are trimmed, etc. As a result, people must do more with less.

Calvin Coolidge once remarked that “people should work less for government and more for themselves.” Eighteen trillion in current debt with no discernible end in sight signal we’re prepared to ignore him and Jefferson, and saunter forward as if there are no repercussions.

Spending a country broke represents not just a fiscal deficit, but a moral one as well.

~Continuing on the theme of money-no-object government, business is going well for western Australian hotels, courtesy of American taxpayers.

During President Obama’s recent one-night stay in Brisbane for the G-20 summit, him and 4000 delegates canvassed three city hotels, with a price tag of a hefty $1.7 million. Considering the logistics of housing the various international delegations in limited accommodations, justification documents state that the cost is “fair and reasonable based on the pricing available across the city of Brisbane at the time of the visit.”

I hope we at least got the group discount rate.

It’s right about now that some would break out arguments approximating “presidential trips are always expensive”, or “Bush spent a lot of money, too”, or the evergreen “it’s because he’s black, isn’t it”. You know the routine. To which I answer: Yes, “Dubya” and “fiscal conservatism” don’t belong in the same sentence. No, I don’t care if he’s black.

It’s the initial retort that’s significant, though: “presidential trips are always expensive”. With four thousand people to feed, fly and drive around…no kidding. But is that by necessity, or is it yet another consequence of a government that speaks only growth and excess?

I’ll wager the latter. An executive branch that requires four thousand groupies accompanying a head of state on a window dressing economic summit that could likely be phoned in with as much avail is a branch that has lost all semblance of proportion.

My guess is that amount could be cut at least in half before anyone noticed any difference. President Obama, the Secret Service, and a team of economic advisers is one thing. A plane full of Deputy Assistant secretaries to the Assistant Deputy Secretary of State, Office of Far East Economic Advancement and Compliance, is something else entirely. We need to start questioning the utility of such gargantuan delegations with regularity. Or, at very least, ask they limit themselves to the continental breakfast.

~Coming to a nationalized retirement program near you, Social Security could go into its death throes a decade earlier than anticipated, according to a Heritage Foundation report:

Aside from a short period in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the exceptionally strong economy pushed Social Security’s projected solvency date forward, Social Security’s financial trajectory has been decidedly negative. If the historical pattern of declining solvency continues, the Social Security trust fund could become insolvent in 2024, a full nine years sooner than currently projected.

If there is a better example of a government program demonstrating the disparity between “economy and liberty” and “profusion and servitude”, I fail to think of one.

Having grown wildly beyond it’s initial charter–simply, an insurance policy taken out on your behalf in case you lived longer than your retirement savings–Social Security and its “trust fund” is nothing more than a massive slush fund with no public trust and no funds.

It is a mathematical certainty that Social Security will not be there for workers decades from retirement, and with insolvency looming, even those approaching retirement face uncertainty. Starting in 2010, the trust fund began running deficits–likely permanent–that will eventually require tax hikes, future borrowing, cuts in other areas of the federal budget to replenish the fund, or cuts to current beneficiaries to shore up finances. Or all of the above.

Either way you cut it, absent fundamental reform, mine and future generations are paying thousands in payroll taxes every year into a system poised to collapse under the weight of its own excess. Confiscating wages to prop up an increasingly unstable entitlement program is not only deeply immoral, but is as close to economic “servitude” as an advanced, civilized nation can get.

I’d be tickled if our political parties–ostensibly the one promoting limited government–could be bothered to staunch the bleeding. After that, relinquish control of my portion of payroll taxes. You’ve done enough damage as it is.

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About Michael Haugen

Michael Haugen is a full-spectrum conservative and recent graduate from Eastern Washington University (BS Biology). His main interests in politics and public policy center around health care, education and tax reform. He'll be returning to EWU in 2014 to complete a Master's degree in Public Administration. Follow him on Twitter: @HaugenTRA

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