Friday, December 28, 2012

The Installment Plan?

A gentleman named Scott Soucy would like every American to pitch in and help pay down our immense national debt.

Mr. Soucy suggests that everyone donate a dollar from every paycheck to the cause. His heart is obviously in the right place, but his head is nowhere near one.  If every American was working (and in addition to infants, children and stay-at-home parents there are more than 20 million of us who are not), then we could raise about $15 or $16 billion dollars in a year. At that rate, we would pay off our current national debt by the early 31st century.

That assumes we wouldn't add any more debt to it, and that's an unwarranted assumption as long as Congress and the President are among those employed. In fact, our deficit grows by $4 billion every day, which means the dollar-a-check donation thing would at maximum impact gather up in a year enough money to keep the government from borrowing anything through Jan. 4. Come the 5th, though, we're out of luck. The project has raised $7 million in the last two years, which the column notes is about three minutes worth of government. About two minutes more than most folks need, in fact, unless we're dealing with a disaster or national emergency.

Again, this is well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective. Beginning in October of 2011, our total debt exceeded our total Gross Domestic Product (the GDP is the market value of all goods and services produced during a certain time. Most often this is measured on an annual basis). That means that if we took every dollar that we made in the U.S. during the year and gave it to the government to pay off the debt, we'd still be short. And plenty hungry, too, since we wouldn't have money to buy food. Then the government would have to put us all on food assistance and balloon the debt again.

A part of what Mr. Soucy suggests is on target. More of us probably need to understand that the government has no money except what it takes from its citizens -- preferably through taxes and fees, although where the rule of law is iffy sometimes it resorts to more direct methods. Pretending that the money the feds spend comes from an inexhaustible source, be it the printing press or the Forbes 500 or whatever else so long as it's not us, is about the only system around even less likely to solve the debt problem than Mr. Soucy's

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