Pay It Backward
“We spent our way into this; we can spend our way out.” The only place that kind of logic works is in government...because the American people are as gullible and oblivious as the driver that is willing to pay for your $13.48 tray of Frappuccinos.
Likely you’ve heard about the random acts of kindness that occasionally take place at fast food chains like Starbucks. The “Pay It Forward” phenomenon has been cropping up throughout the country for several years now. It all starts when a customer at the drive-thru tells the cashier that they would like to pay for the order placed by the car behind them. The kindness then becomes contagious as the happy recipient reciprocates by perpetuating the gift to the approaching customer in their rear view mirror. The most remarkable episodes are the ones that do not let up all day, sometimes stretching the java generosity to more than 150 customers. Surely an awesome event! I wouldn’t mind taking part in something like that, provided I am not followed by a stretch limo full of parched travelers.
I have another idea though. I propose we initiate a new fad. I call it “Pay it Backward”, and it works like this. You roll up to the drive-thru intercom and make your selection, paying as little attention to the cost as you are able. Go ahead, be liberal about it, you deserve it. Ok… so now the cashier informs you of your $13.48 bill and invites you to proceed to the window for payment and pickup. Here’s where the thing takes an interesting twist. Mustering your nerve you boldly inform the cashier that your order is going to be paid for by the driver behind you. That’s right; your bill will be covered by that obliviously generous stranger, now riding your bumper. What… you think “Pay It Backward” is a bad idea? It takes cruel and selfish advantage, dumping your fiscal responsibility onto an innocent bystander, you say? And what if the guy behind you only ordered a small coffee, which will now presumably be paid for by the car behind him, you recoil… that doesn’t sound fair. No, you’re right. It doesn’t exactly make any ethical sense, does it? It is somewhat a comical scenario, were it not so true to life.
The fact is it bears a remarkable resemblance to President Obama’s answer to our national debt crisis, now don’t you think? Spending like the price isn’t on the menu, all the while deceived into believing that the generation tailgating us will just willingly and painlessly pick up the tab despite our lack of discipline, responsibility and true kindness.
This country started digging the financial hole it is in when it embraced FDR’s New Deal, an abysmal attempt to rescue the nation from the Great Depression. It has been long established that Roosevelt’s resuscitation plot only served to reverse a recovering trend and lengthen the depression by eight long years. Ultimately it would take the combination of a world war and a remarkable increase in consumer savings, spawning consumption, to stimulate the economy enough to see the country recover. But Washington never washed its hands of the pilfery pinned to the next generation, as a whole new mindset sought to rob from its children to feed its parents.
At midnight on December 31st, the terms of the “kick the can” Budget Control Act of 2011 will send the already ailing United States economy hurling off a fiscal cliff unless the President and Congress negotiate a deal to stop it. We are all familiar with the primary bone of contention, President Obama’s plan to extend the Bush tax cuts only to those making less than $250,000. But there is more to the story. In a bold attempt to go where no sane administration has gone before, the White House has proposed giving the president sole and unbridled authority to raise the debt ceiling, effectively bypassing congressional approval. Additionally, the president wants a multi-year stimulus package that would initiate in 2013 with a minimum injection of $50 billion.
With a combined public debt of $16.323 trillion, talk of relinquishing such unrestrained power to a president that has already sent it into the stratosphere is frightening. But the administration seems oblivious to the shock and awe that can only result by borrowing more so that we can endlessly stimulate like some crazed Keynesian. The foolhardy motto… “We spent our way into this; we can spend our way out.” The only place that kind of logic works is in government, and that’s only because the American people are as gullible and oblivious as the driver that is willing to pay for your $13.48 tray of Frappuccinos. We the people have collectively reaped the economic turmoil we have sown. Yet… to borrow the title from Obama’s book, we have the “Audacity of Hope” that our kids will pay for our poor harvest. If we own the blame, we should accept the shame. But conservative, fiscally responsible principles have taken the back seat to greed and arrogance. A helpless motherland, we have fallen and we can’t get up, as that “shining city on a hill” no longer lights the path for the next generation.
With our current debt ceiling set at $16.394 trillion, the decision is now on our doorstep. The next increase will represent the 77th rise since its practice started in 1962, when I was a one year old in diapers. While the White House and some in congress will celebrate the temporary breathing room a raise in the national debt will provide, wiser Americans will mourn the arrogant irresponsibility that got us here. But take courage. Mourn, but do not fret. If conservatives again collectively take up the torch, stand on our foundation and return to fiscally responsible values, perhaps a new “contract with America” may be signed in the stratosphere and implemented in Washington. In the meantime, if you see me behind you at Starbucks… please do the right thing!
Image(Starbucks) Credit: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (Flickr)/KDavidClark