COMMENTARY: Americans should get spending under control

Aaron Hughey

Pay attention. The writing is on the wall.

A May 11 Chicago Tribune article titled “Greece and us” stated: “If Americans want to avoid the fate of today’s Greece, they had better do what the Greeks failed to do: Scale down what they demand from the government and accept the need to pay for what they get.”

Most Americans are not blind to the dangers that lie ahead if we do not get our spending under control – but many of us seem to be in denial.

David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst, said, “The Tax Foundation estimates that 60% of all Americans now receive more in income benefits from government than they pay into government, and that with new policy directions, the number will grow closer to 70%.”

Recent projections by the Government Accountability Office indicate that if we continue on our present trajectory, the federal deficit is expected to grow by at least $1 trillion a year during the next decade.

Is that really so bad? Yes. To quote a line from Ghostbusters, one of my all-time favorite movies, unless we make a course correction soon, we are “headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.”

The path we are on is unsustainable; i.e., if we do not make fairly significant changes to our current economic policies, the entire global financial system could collapse. And the collateral damage will include our entire way of life.

So what should be done?

First, we need a constitutional amendment mandating a balanced federal budget, except under the most extreme conditions (war, for example).

Second, we need laws to protect those who act responsibly while punishing those who are reckless or unethical. Investors and financial institutions have a legitimate right to reap the profits when their performance warrants such. By the same token, they should accept their losses when things don’t go as well. No more bailouts.

Finally, we need policies that encourage fiscal responsibility. Neither the government nor its citizens should be allowed to spend more than revenues permit. Individuals should not be given loans that they can’t realistically repay. The same principle should apply to the government.

The reality is that we cannot have it all, either as individuals or as a society.

The implications are very clear.

We need to stop listening to politicians who promise the impossible and start paying attention to those who have the courage to tell the truth. We desperately need leaders who have the fortitude to make the hard decisions that are in our long-term collective best interest.

Look at the wall again. The writing is becoming clearer every day.

This commentary does not represent the views of the Herald or the university.

Aaron Hughey is a counseling and student affairs professor