Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I Owe, I Owe, So It's Off to Work I Go!

Yes, it's a lousy parody of the Seven Dwarfs' song, I know, but it does describe the U.S. economy right now! And not just you and me--the entire government. As I write this, a major debate is raging between the two political poles about whether the "debt limit" of our nation should be raised. One side is being ideological about it--don't raise the limit and we will be "forced" to find a way to balance the Federal budget. This is not actually true, however. In fact, it is impossible to totally balance the Federal budget in one year. Even if we are able to do it, it will take years, unless we are willing to cancel all Social Security and totally disband the military. The other side says they are being practical by wanting to raise the debt limit in that without doing so, the government will not be able to pay its bills and will go into default--a scenario that has never happened in the U.S.A. Many economists believe that if our nation goes into default that other world economies would crumble and the stock market could plummet 7000 points almost overnight. Regardless of which camp you side with, THAT would be bad.

The "Great Recession," as it has been dubbed, has caused many Americans to reign in their personal debt to a great extent. Many families have sacrificed to pay off credit cards and have developed new habits that greatly curtail frivolous spending. This is a good thing. My wife and I had already been working to tame our debt, and we are now at a point of financial relief we haven't experienced since we were first married (34+ years ago!). Our debt has dropped to a manageable level and our credit score has soared, but none of this happened without personal sacrifice and careful management of our limited resources. I'm not bragging--just suggesting that this is an extremely liberating turn of affairs, and I would encourage any of you reading this blog to "do thou likewise."

Jim Wallis of Sojourners says in his book, Rediscovering Values that a budget is a moral document. As a nation, our budget should reflect the care we have for our citizens, from poorest to wealthiest. Unfortunately, when we find ourselves in the lean times (and debt-ridden ones) that require paring the budget, the "powers that be" almost always leave intact the military (which is, by far, one of the largest pieces of the Federal budget) and cut education and social programs. Wallis would suggest that this says that our nation is less concerned for our future and for the "least of these" than we are for funding the military/industrial complex, which is often touted as "protecting our freedom" when it is "PRed" by its proponents. While I would never be in favor of gutting our national defense to the place where it would be ineffective, I believe it needs to seriously scrutinized for substantial cuts. There are few intelligent people alive who don't believe that military spending is way out of bounds. When we cut education, we devalue our future. When we cut social programs, we turn helpless, hurting, and sometimes troubled people out into the streets where many are heard to say about them: "That's a shame; someone should DO something about it." Friends, we are that "someone," and as long as we as Americans continue to resist any and all tax increases and reasonable cuts to the defense budget, these are the people who will take it on the chin, and will forever be before us as a reminder of our selfishness. When it comes to taxes, the United States of America is one of the least taxed nations on the face of the earth. I don't like to pay more in taxes any more than any of you, but I am MORE THAN WILLING to pay more, if others are willing to cut defense spending requisitely, so that our young people can go to college or to technical and trade schools to get decent jobs.

Sorry for the rant. No, I guess I'm really NOT sorry! Mr. Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had three "simple rules" for finances, and they are golden. To paraphrase them, "MAKE all you can, SAVE all you can, GIVE all you can." We all want to "make" more money, too few of us are willing to live a simpler lifestyle that includes low debt and high savings, and, indeed, not enough of us are GIVING all we can to charity, including church, social agencies, schools and colleges, the United Way, etc. What a different country this could be for ALL people if we would commit ourselves to these simple financial rules! Shalom, friends.

What's Next?

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