This column was published in the Laurel Leader Call (Laurel, MS) on Tuesday, June 12, 2012:
As a young grade-schooler in the 1980s, I was fond of watching The Three Stooges show before departing for another eventful day of fun-filled learning at my local government school. I hated getting up that early, and still do, but at least a little slapstick comedy while eating breakfast would lessen the pain.
I remember one episode fondly. Moe, Larry, and Curly embarked on a duck-hunting trip on a nearby lake. While sitting in the boat awaiting the ducks, Curly, earnestly trying to get his gun to fire, accidentally shot a hole in the bottom of the boat. As water gushed in and pandemonium ensued, Larry devised a quick solution: He shot another hole in his end of the boat to let the water run out!
Now we all know how monumentally stupid such a move would be, but our Obama-led government has been doing exactly the same thing in fighting our current economic recession for the last three years, using a Three Stooges approach. A severe economic downturn caused by too much spending, too much debt, too much borrowing, and too much inflation is being fought with more spending, more debt, more borrowing, and more inflation, with no end in sight.
No one with at least a thimble full of common sense could possibly think such a plan would work. Only the liberal stooges in Washington.
But the federal government in the 19th and early 20th centuries used different methods to solve economic woes. And when wars and depressions did strike, and debts mounted, Washington tightened its belt and paid down debt as soon as the calamity was over. So when the next storm struck, and inevitably it would, the nation was in a much better position to weather it.
Today we spend and spend in good times as well as bad and have a near $16 trillion national debt to show for our efforts.
How big is a trillion you might ask? If we wanted to pay down just a trillion dollars of the national debt, paying one dollar a second, it would take about 32,000 years. A stack of $100 bills totaling $1 million would be about 4 feet high. A billion dollars, 4,000 feet high. But a trillion dollars would extend 789 miles out into space. And remember, we now have 15 of those stacks to pay back and we are getting close to having a 16th!
But let me make it even worse. Added to our national debt, which is money we have already spent, we can include more than $55 trillion in unfunded liabilities, future obligations to programs like Medicare and Social Security. If you add in state and local commitments, like pensions, it climbs to more than $60 trillion, equal to $500,000 for each household in America. That’s what we have done to our children and grandchildren. Massive debt hangs over our heads like an enormous boulder, held up by a thread, just waiting to fall.
And how is Congress working on the problem? It’s not, unfortunately. Our illustrious leaders have decided to investigate such catastrophic national problems as the Facebook IPO controversy and JP Morgan’s recent losses in bad trades, which amounted to just $2 billion, while Congress spends $4 billion a day in deficit. Talk about hypocrisy.
Even though Republicans control the House, we can’t even get serious budget reductions enacted. The so-called $2 trillion in cuts agreed upon during the debt ceiling debate is no real decrease. Before the deal, we were set to run up debts of over $10 trillion in the next decade; now, with $2 trillion in cuts, we will only run a little over $8 trillion in debt. Not exactly the kind of reforms we need.
With a new debt ceiling fight at the end of the year, Congress must get tough on spending. Though President Obama has recently boasted on the campaign trail that he “did not overspend,” Congress overwhelmingly rejected his most recent budget, by a vote of 414 to 0 in the House and 99 to 0 in the Senate. That’s a good start.
Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, in his new book, The Debt Bomb, believes we have just 2 to 5 years left before a major financial meltdown. Coburn’s biggest fear is an increase in interest rates. We are borrowing huge sums at just 2 percent interest, costing us a total of $241 billion in interest for FY 2012. But if the rate rises to its historic level of 6 percent, then our interest payments will triple, to more than $700 billion a year, and we will be in big trouble almost immediately.
If Senator Coburn is right, and I believe he is, then we must quit the Three Stooges silliness, stop blowing more holes in our boat, and finally get serious about our debt problem or face a disaster far worse than the calamity striking Greece and Spain, which threatens to overtake the European Union and spread around the globe.