Reality and Its Avoidance

Dr. Malcolm Cross

According to Ayn Rand, “You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.”  Each day, as our government sinks deeper and deeper into debt, we come closer and closer to testing the truth of Ayn Rand’s assertion.  Our irresponsible policies are the fault of our political “leaders,” but because we elect them, they’re our fault too.

Lost and ignored amid the endless chatter and blather generated by our presidential candidates are three facts which, at the very least, should give pause to responsible Americans:

  • The national government will soon be paying more than a trillion dollars a year in interest alone on the national debt; 
  • The interest payments on the national debt will soon be greater than expenditures on national defense or any other federal program except Social Security; and
  • Neither Trump nor Biden, our parties’ most likely presidential nominees, has any realistic plan for restoring order and integrity to federal fiscal policies.

It’s easy to understand how we got into this mess.  The U. S. Constitution says little about fiscal policy other than that the government can tax and spend only in accordance with laws passed by Congress.  But there is no constitutional requirement for budgets, balanced or otherwise.  In fact neither “balanced” nor “budget” is in the Constitution.  So our political “leaders” have great freedom to fashion whatever policies they want, with few constitutional guardrails to keep them in check.  And use that freedom they have.

In general, one of the best ways for someone to win election and re-election is to advocate and implement popular policies, and the most popular policies are those which increase spending and decrease taxes.  We’re always willing to support politicians willing to spend more money on programs we like, whether they be programs promoting welfare, national parks, or missile defense.  But while we like seeing the money spent, we also want lower taxes.  We want more from the government, while keeping more of our own money for ourselves as well.

And our political “leaders” assure us that most of us can indeed have it both ways.  The Democrats say that if we simply tax “the rich” enough we’ll have all the money we need to do whatever we want while our own taxes are kept low.  The Republicans say that the government can simply raise more money by cutting taxes to stimulate economic growth, which will generate enough revenue to balance the budget and let government do more with lower taxes for everyone.  And enough voters fall for the nonsense and drivel our “leaders” dole out to keep them in power as they (and we) do our best to ignore the reality of their irresponsibility and dishonesty.

But as spending, debts, and deficits soar, the consequences of our reality avoidance will become greater and may descend on us sooner.  We’re already seeing debt interest payments begin to crowd out spending on other programs, even as Democrats insist on spending more money while Republicans refuse to sanction any sort of funding that would require higher taxes, and the small band of House Republicans who demand significant spending cuts are dismissed as right-wing kooks.

In the past I’ve advocated a constitutional amendment to require a balanced federal budget.  Such an amendment would provide cover for those who realize we must begin to implement meaningful tax increases and/or spending cuts (“The Constitution made me do it!”)  A term limits amendment for members of Congress might also be of some limited benefit—it would diminish the incentive of members to pursue programs to spend more and tax less, albeit with the risk that with the departure of experienced members of Congress, the bureaucrats would be able to increase their power as they deal with more neophytes.

But the real solution, if there is to be one, is to elect to national office more people who are willing to see clearly and speak plainly on matters of taxes and spending, and to thereby make the case that our current policies are unsustainable.  It may be several more election cycles, during which the debt, the deficits, and the required interest payments become so great that we can’t otherwise find the funds for necessary programs.  In other words, we may have to wait for things to get worse before we bite the bullet and elect officials more intent on doing what’s right than doing what’s popular.  The main question is—how much worse must things get before we’re willing to elect those with the knowledge and courage to make things better?

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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