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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Is Our National Debt The Disease Or A Symptom?

The Shutdown is over and so is defaulting on loans along with a huge economic uncertainty. But an ominous future has only been procrastinated while today is forever for too many Americans. So what should we make of all of this?

Conservatives, who believe in personal responsibility, rightly believe that paying back a debt is a moral obligation. So failure to pay back what is borrowed should be avoided at almost all costs.  However, the debate between Republicans  and Democrats does not consist in figuring out how to pay back the debt. Instead, Republicans and Democrats continue to spar over how to make the debt grow.

During Obama's Presidency, Republicans rightfully complain about the growing debt. Though the complaints are valid, they lack context. Such Republican complaints were absent when Bush was President and we can identify one of greatest contributors to the growing debt as being the combination of tax cuts for the wealthy and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And though we might have grounds for arguing that the war against Afghanistan was justified, overthrowing the Taliban with the help of known terrorists groups, such as those that belonged to the Northern Alliance, only furthered the misery of the people there and delegitimized our war rationale.

In addition, a large part of the debt during Obama's Administration came from bailouts for banks and financial institutions. The event that sparked the bailouts occurred during the Bush Administration.

Despite their public contrition for their spending sins during Bush's Administration, the Republican targeting of "entitlement" spending and the shielding of both defense spending and tax cuts serve as strong indicators that deficits and debt are not their main concerns. Nor do they regard fiscal responsibility as being an important moral standard.

On the Democrats' side, we have the defense of "entitlements" spending and a push for tax increases on the rich. But why? These Democrats show little, if any, concern about either the increase of military interventions or defense spending.  In addition, they have said next to nothing about homeland security budgets  as well as the growth of the prison industrial complex. 

And as much as the Democrats might rightfully blame the need for the bailouts on the Republicans, the conditions that allowed the collapse of the economy, for the most part, remain the same and the Democrats have refused to criminally prosecute officials from the financial institutions for their fraudulent, regarding the housing bubble, the rating of mortgages, and the foreclosure on homes, and criminal, regarding money laundering, activities. Thus, just as spending on the Vietnam War during the days of Martin Luther King Jr. hurt programs of "social uplift," so both corporate welfare and the maintenance of a corrupt system sabotage the Democrats' efforts to maintain entitlement spending. 

What we have in the end are the two ruling political parties who claim they want to be fiscally responsible but who contradict these claims by their practices. Both parties want to spend too much. One party includes "entitlement" spending while the other does not. One party thinks that it can make up the difference by increasing taxes on the rich while the other wants to put the brunt of the tax load to be placed on those who are not major campaign contributors. The latter party sees only one debt: the financial debt. It does not acknowledge the moral debt that "entitlement" spending addresses. At the same time, the party that acknowledges the need for "entitlement" spending also shares the spending practices of the other party and thus "entitlement" spending will be both shortchanged and endangered by government overspending in other areas.

Before closing, we have to address what "entitlement" spending means. According to the magazine, The Economist, entitlements include Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare. We learned during the Shutdown that Food Stamps are also entitlements. What we should note about Social Security and much of Medicare, however, is that they are self-funded and do not increase the deficits and the national debt. In fact, Social Security holds the most federal debt for the government and so we would have to ask whether those who wish to cut or eliminate Social Security how they are planning to honor that part of our debt. 

But more important than that is the significance of these "entitlement" programs. That is because "entitlement" spending is there to help stabilize the economic status of those who are vulnerable. By calling such spending entitlements, we are relegating such spending from being a moral requirement to being a feel-good luxury--a luxury we cannot responsibly afford in tough economic times. Thus by hurting entitlement spending by either targeting  or sabotaging it, we are explicitly stating that the vulnerable in our society are disposable as are the morals that would drive us to care for them. 

But there is a twist here. The Middle Class is being taught to regard the poor in the same way as the Rich regard the Middle Class. So the more the Middle Class adopts the mentality that says, "entitlements are a luxury," the more the Rich reneges on spending their tax dollars on infrastructure that mostly benefits the Middle Class. If one doubts this, then look at the state of much of our infrastructure today. This is why more and more of the tax burden used to support government functions is falling on the middle class. And what is lost on Conservative Christians here is how they hurt others by requesting cuts in entitlements for the vulnerable is how they are being harmed by the Upper Class. That is because we need full participation via the payment of taxes by the Upper Class to finance our society. 

Our dilemma is this, our current system cannot support both our debt and moral obligations. And yet, the only solutions being offered to us are different ways to tweak the current system. This system is designed to reward those who perform the best at acting in their own self-interest. So it follows that the system puts fewer and fewer ethical constraints on how one does this. In addition, since all earthly resources are finite, there is a point where the more wealth one makes for oneself, the less there is for others to scrounge for. So as wealth disparity increases, more and more are without and whatever refuge they could find from the government is being cut by our two political parties. The one party wants to eliminate entitlements while the other seeks to sabotage them.

Our debt isn't the problem, it is just one of many symptoms that point to a failed economic system. And so we will not begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel until we recognize and acknowledge what is wrong with the current system so we can create a new one that, at least, avoids the grave errors on which the current system is built.


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