The Government and Money: I Don’t Get It

The Government and Money: I Don’t Get It July 28, 2011

I don’t get how the US government can’t stay within a budget without grossly exceeding it every year.

When regular businesses spend all their money and can’t pay, they get shut down (unless you’re a huge bank with lots of ties to the White House, but that’s another thing I don’t understand that frustrates me to no end).

When regular people spend all of their money and can’t pay their bills they get evicted or foreclosed and end up on the street.

When our government spends all of their money they just raise the debt ceiling and go further in debt to, let’s say, China.

One day China will come-a-calling for their money. All of it. And its interest.

And when that happens our country and its economic sustainability is going to be screwed anyway.  We’ll probably have to go to war because China won’t be so happy with whatever excuses we come up with. So why not clean up our own house right now?

We’re already in a recession (even with our Federal income at $2.7 trillion!). We’re already going to have our taxes raised; again. We’re already trillions and trillions of dollars in debt. Why not stay within a budget? I’m talking about a real budget. Not those government-pretend-budgets that can be loaned against over and over and over again.

I know their main argument is, “If any part of our (Federal or State) government collapses we (our country or individual State) will turn to chaos.

Is this not already chaos?

CNN shows that every single State is in debt. My State, Illinois, and California, are the worst! Billions of dollars in debt!

Sure, it could get worse. Anything, could always get worse. But this default // raising the debt ceiling // borrowing against pension stuff is ridiculous. We need to dramatically cut our spending to stay within a budget that will actually yield savings, not debt. So you might be asking yourself, well, Mr. Smarty-pants, how then would you cut our spending to do such a thing.

Thanks for asking. Here are the 4 quickest ways I see this happening:

1. Get the masses of troops and military equipment out of Iraq and Afghanistan:

We can still assist their governments in organizing themselves, their infrastructure and their sustainability diplomatically without having full artillery on site. We’ve tried the other way, and look where that has got us.  We’ve spent more money on military than the rest of the world combined. From what I understand, a new plan by Defense Secretary Robert Gates would save us $100 billion. That’s if his warning is actually listened to.

2. Cut foreign aid:

The US gave $25 billion in foreign aid last year. The next country is Germany, which gave $13 billion. It’s one thing to support the world’s economy when we’re in the black or close to it. It’s another to do it when our dollar means nothing and our country owes other countries more than the amount of money there is in the entire world put together. The United States also must stop paying for everyone else’s Olympics (See most recently Greece and Brazil). Our foreign aid must be prioritized to the poor countries with nothing – no food, water, infrastructure; and those that suffer natural disasters. Anything else is not needed at this crucial point.

3. Stop forgiving foreign debt to our country:

This is not the Bible. The United States of America is not run through a Christian worldview. It’s run like biblical Rome. Or Babylon. Our country is a capitalistic business. Our country can’t be the forgiver of debts while simultaneously being the governor of war. China will collect on its loans to us. Do you ever see them forgiving our debt?

4. Keep politicians and government employees accountable for their spending:

Too many private jets, expensive meals, shopping sprees, “discretionable funds”, golfing, etc. If politicians are supposed to speak for the people, let them live like us too.

Now I know my 4 ideas are simplistic in nature, and if they were to be accomplished there would have to be many more nuances involved. It has to start somewhere, and these leaders need to be held accountable. Though, I understand accountability is hard when our politically polarized and power-hungry country and its leaders continue to work in the same metric regardless of who is in charge. I can only pray clarity comes to this situation.

Much love.

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  • First of all, thanks for what you are doing here. I’ve been moved by what I’ve read from you over the past few months. I have two thoughts about this post: 1) The debt ceiling debate is not about spending new money, but but about money congress has already spent. They have already written the checks, now they are just debating whether or not to run to the bank to deposit money to cover them. 2) Leave this stuff to the political types. There are plenty of other forums for people to express their opinions about politics, but very few people are talking in constructive ways about faith and LGBT issues like you are here. Thanks for what you do!

    • A.J. – Thank you so much for reading these last few months, and for commenting! I’m glad you’ve gotten a lot out of what we’ve put up here.

      Also, I apologize in advance for the remainder of my comment. I don’t mean to be a jerk, and I don’t mean to take this all out on you – because what I’m about to say is not about you, but a number of things similarly said recently. Please understanding that. Much love!

      I’m really excited that so many people get so much out of our blog surrounding faith and sexuality! That is obviously what The Marin Foundation is all about, and so when our message resonates, that is just one tangible way of showing us we’re making an impact. Inevitably, however, whenever I write anything at all that is not about faith or sexuality (like, specifically politics), someone, the first person, always writes: You do faith and sexuality good, stick with that and leave politics to the experts. I appreciate the thoughts, I really do. But just because that is what people think I’m “good at” doesn’t mean it’s the only thing I am allowed to write or have a thought about. This is not a political blog, I don’t have a political organization and I’m not a political expert by any stretch of the mind. I understand that. But when something strikes me I am going to write about it – regardless of what topic. Because of where I live and what I do most of that will obviously be about faith and LGBT issues, but not exclusively… nor, in my opinion, should it be.

      I would like to remind folks that recently I have a lecture at the United Nations International Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland; I have spoken before members of the US Senate in the Capitol Building in DC, spoke at the United Nations General Assembly High Level Meeting in NYC and after, was asked to write an article for the Journal of Political Theology, which was peer reviewed, accepted, and will be published next month. It’s not that I have no contact with the political world or people within in. The opposite is actually true. Doesn’t mean I flaunt that or talk about it all the time or expect people to give me one ounce of political cred. Because I don’t – nor am I looking for much, or any, political cred. I’m saying all of this not to pat myself on the back or think I’m some big-shot, because I’m not. I’m saying it to remind (or inform) people that writing about political things once in a blue moon doesn’t mean I shouldn’t ever do that.

      On to my post:

      I know the debt ceiling debate is not about spending new money. But at the current rate we’re going, unless our government cuts spending dramatically we’ll just need to continue to raise the debt ceiling and have to get more loans, regardless. This post was about foresight and how I see 4 ways that our government spending can start to save a little; not necessarily inform the current debate.

      Please understand, again A.J., the bulk of this response was not directly to you alone. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Brad Grammer

    Thanks for your comments. I agree with your frustration totally! I don’t understand why we vote people into office who can’t manage the country’s money well. If that’s the way it is, why aren’t you and I in office? My understanding is that I vote people into office partly so they can handle things that the common person doesn’t know about or cannot manage. If people we vote into government cannot manage our country’s finances, then I guess I’m confused about why we vote people in office. Just my thoughts. Thanks again for expressing what I’ve been frustrated about as well.

    • Brad – I don’t get that governing aspect either. I guess that’s because neither you or I have ever held office. I’m sure, as with many other things, the grass is always greener looking from the outside in. But still, a budget is a budget and should be run within. I think for so long our gov has just been able to raise the debt ceiling and borrow against whatever they wanted, for so much, that they’ve got an out to keep doing what they’re doing and then blame the ‘other’ (whichever that is) party for the problem.

  • Kevin Harris

    I liked the suggestions although I cringed when it came to the part about debt forgiveness. The problem with debt when it comes to developing countries is that it often amounts to quantities that exceed the government’s ability to pay them back, making them unpayable. And though we may not be a Christian nation, that doesn’t mean we can ignore the complexities when it comes to lending money and the results of debt that is not cancelled.

    Debt can come as a result of colonialism where part of the debt of a developing country comes from the colonizing state transferring some of their debt to them. There is also a lot of debt that the U.S. is responsible for when it comes to the fact that we have lent to dictators and corrupt leaders in the past when it was known (or should have been known) that the money would be wasted. Thus, the leaders that gave are responsible, not the people living in the repressive regimes. Although it is not money that we lent, an example is of money that was lent to the apartheid regime in South Africa by world banks that was somewhere around 20 billion dollars. Their ancestors are still paying off the debt and will continue to for a while. Then there are the giant creditors like the World Bank that have lent massively to third-world governments at very high interest rates (often with the intention of pursuing industrial development and other Western ideas). They were not responsible loans in the first place, but were made by large corporations looking to profit off the exploitation of others.

    Regardless of whether the loans were fair or ethical, the money that countries could be spending on poverty reduction and education will end up going to paying of large debts that may never be paid off (many of them are just paying on the interest and not actually chipping away at the actual debt). As a result, many countries end up becoming like the countries that you mentioned in the paragraph above when you were talking about prioritizing our financial aid to countries with no food, water, or infrastructure. Not cancelling debt can cause crisis on a macro scale, and then we may end up giving them financial aid after their quality of life has deteriorated and their basic needs are not met.

    • So true Kev – especially about the history of colonialism and the World Bank! In my head I wasn’t thinking about a lot of the impoverished countries (which I could have made much clearer). The most recent example I can think of is our gov canceling Haiti’s debt to us. That was a warranted canceling, and also a country that needs our foreign aid; and a bunch of it.

  • Adam C.

    “One day China will come-a-calling for their money. All of it. And its interest.”

    This is not really true. We are capable of paying off the loan. And the longer we take to pay it off, the more money China makes from us in the long run.

    You have to think of this in long-term increments — on the scale of decades. For example, during President Clinton’s term in office, the country was running a surplus and paying off its debt. Our goal is to get there again.

    We *cannot* get there again if we just let everything crash and burn. That’s irresponsible not only toward ourselves, but toward the generations who will be living here ten, twenty, thirty years from now.

    If we’re going to get where we want to be, we need a healthy economy. And letting everything crash and burn won’t get us to a healthy economy; it’ll be one that cripples us for those generations. If we have to borrow more today to move toward a healthy economy tomorrow, that’s a responsible decision.

    Toward your specific points:

    1. Totally agreed.

    2. Foreign aid a tiny fraction of our budget. It’s not a meaningful part of the solution. It’s just a good scapegoat, ‘cuz, y’know, cutting it wouldn’t affect *us*.

    3. Sometimes forgiving debt is the wisest *capitalist* course of action. America does better in a global economy when all members are flourishing. If forgiving debt means releasing a country from economic oppression today in order to let it become a successful partner tomorrow, it is in our best interest to forgive. Regardless of Jubilee principles.

    4. General agreement, though it seems kind of complicated in practice. We already do try to hold lawmakers accountable to not taking bribes and selling their votes… but lobbyists and campaign contributors seem to turn money into leverage anyway. What can we do differently?

    • Adam C (and I now know the difference between you and Adam! 🙂 ) – A few thoughts:

      As for China coming to get their money, though it might not be our generation or even the next, global economy is cyclical and the power countries are so for generations, but history shows that at some point it always comes to an end. I just feel that it must be a top priority for our country’s leaders to focus on each year on doing all they can to run a surplus, including cutting spending where possible. As to your comments on each of the four:

      1. Yep. 🙂

      2. It is indeed a smaller fraction of our budget, and it wouldn’t affect us. But it is something that is stand alone (I didn’t include other gov agencies and their granting towards things that are probably not a top priority because much of it is too nuanced and intertwined with other gov agency spending – e.g. things like last year about $100 million was given towards dinosaurs, etc. Dinosaurs are an important (and cool) part of our history… but $100 million? Really?)

      3. Point taken. I definitely agree to a certain extend because that same principle goes true for the rest of our world’s countries as well. Though, the US is the only one besides the UK (to my knowledge) that forgives debt. As I mentioned to Kevin earlier, forgiving debt is fine to certain places, but others, not so much.

      4. True statement – especially with the lobbyists and campaign contributors! The only thing I can think of is fly in commercial planes, mandatory 40 hour office hours during weekdays, across the board firmly set discretionary funds, etc. I know there’s a what-if scenario for all of this. And it’s probably impossible, but dropping the hammer a little bit on our politicians wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

      • Adam C.

        “History shows that at some point it always comes to an end.”

        Well, yeah, history shows (or at least strongly implies) that *everything* comes to an end!

        Not to hijack the topic or anything, but that’s one argument from gay marriage opponents that makes me roll my eyes. “History shows that every civilization that embraces homosexuality comes to an end.” Well, yeah — because over a timeline of thousands of years, just about *everything* ends! (And then new things arise from the old!)

  • Regular reader

    I just want to chime in briefly to agree with A.J. Of course you have every right to express your political views (and I agree with you in any case). I’m just not convinced that it’s in the best interest of the Marin Foundation to take public stands on issues unrelated to its mission. I would like this to be a place that brings people together despite differing economic philosophies. If this were a personal blog, I would see no problem. But since this is associated with the organization and its mission, I don’t want to see it alienate people who might otherwise support or benefit from its message. I’ve so far liked being able to recommend this site to friends on both sides of the political spectrum, and like A.J., I don’t want to see it used as a place to discuss potentially divisive political issues that are only tangentially related to its mission.
    Thanks for all you do!