Who Hijacked Our Country

Monday, March 24, 2008

“Live Within Your Means!”

Talk about mixed signals. This article is basically lecturing people about sticking to a budget. Of course it’s good advice, especially with the housing crisis, credit crisis, the tanking economy…

But a huge percentage of our economy is based on discretionary consumer spending. Where would we be without it?

Every year starting in late November, tens of millions of Americans go into a crazed, foaming-at-the-mouth shopping frenzy. They spend money they don’t have, to buy a bunch of expensive presents nobody needs, just so they can impress people they don’t even like.

And while this mad stampede is going on, millions of business owners are terrified — mortified. They're scared shitless that this year’s shopping stampede might not be quite as frenzied as last year’s.

If everyone started living within a budget and buying only what they could afford, this country would go through cold turkey that no junkie ever imagined. It would’ve been better if this whole credit/debt concept had never been adopted. But now that we’re in this mess, what's the best way to get out?

There was an excellent TV series a few years ago — American Dreams (2002-04). It was about an extended family in Philadelphia during the early 1960s. The father owned a TV store. One day another merchant was telling him about this revolutionary new phenomenon: credit cards. The TV store owner said “What, somebody’s gonna pay more for something just so he can have it now instead of waiting ‘til he can afford it? No way!”

[sigh] if only…

Now that more Americans are being forced to live within their means, maybe the government could try the same thing. Riiight. After all, credit and bankruptcy counselors have to lay out strict merciless budgets for their clients. If any item isn't absolutely crucial — Ixnay! Imagine somebody telling our reckless president:

“I'm sorry George, you just can't afford to invade any more countries. Look at this multi-trillion dollar debt you’ve run up. Look at this shit! What were you thinking??”

And while we’re at it, can we afford to keep spending billions of dollars on some asshole’s “Family Values” agenda?

“War on Drugs? Are you crazy? You’ve spent yourself into bankruptcy trying to enforce your “values” onto everybody else. Not one more cent for your Morality Industrial Complex. Nope, I don’t want to hear it.”

cross-posted at Bring It On!

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Blogger Carlos said...

I’d love to tell Georgie all that and more. Republicans talk about Democratic taxing, and the sheep believe them – never giving a thought about what damage Republican irresponsibility is doing to their children, and generations to come.

And how people (of any party) can put so much import on immigration, morality, and abortion issues is beyond me. Those three issues combined couldn’t do, and aren’t doing, a fraction of the damage to our nation and its people as this misbegotten war.

Dumbasses in Government

March 25, 2008 at 3:26 AM  
Blogger Randal Graves said...

I'm all for following a budget, but funny how the little people are the ones expected to behave themselves while those with access to billions aren't, especially since they'll just get their ass bailed out when they inevitably end up over their heads.

March 25, 2008 at 6:10 AM  
Blogger Candace said...

Shoot, he's thinking he'll just get Dads and Mumsie to bail him out like they always did before.

March 25, 2008 at 6:51 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Carlos: Republican think tanks and spinmeisters have done a good job of brainwashing the public. Democrat = "tax and spend" even though Bush has turned Clinton's huge surplus into a crippling deficit.

You're right, those Fundamentalists and other "moralists" are a perfect example of the solution being worse than the problem.

Randal: Yup, an individual is expected to pull his/her weight and not expect any handouts. And they need to keep some of their tax money handy for bailing out those billionaires when yet another business venture collapses.

Candace: Like they say, a pampered spoiled child will grow up to be a helpless incapable adult. George W. Bush is a perfect example.

March 25, 2008 at 10:00 AM  
Blogger Snave said...

Good link, Tom! It sucks that high consumer debt is forcing more Americans to favor shopping places like... Wal-Mart. How convenient for the Walton family! And we know where their political contributions tend to go, so things work out very neatly here, don't they!

Carlos is right... it has been pounded into our nation's collective wisdom that the Dems are the party of "tax-and-spend". And maybe some of that is true. Well, the GOP may not be the party of "tax", but under Bush they have certainly become the party of "spend". I loathe their tired old saw about how throwing money at everything does not solve problems. I agree with that to an extent, but I also believe that if you have the money, there are certain things on which it is valuable or beneficial to spend that money. I don't believe anyone in America should live in poverty or be denied access to health care, for example... but does America have the money to address some of those things anymore?

Without the taxes to raise the money to spend (and with an endless war being continually funded by our Congress, thus putting a further drain on our national coffer), our government "spends" non-existent money. Like many of us Americans who are driven by consumerism, they don't want to have to spend money for what they want, and they instead prefer the credit route which provides the illusion they are getting something without having to pay for it.

I think that when our nation is being run more and more by spoiled rich people, we see things like this happen. People at our highest levels of government, who rarely or never grew up having to worry about food, shelter, or if the next paycheck will come... they are the ones spending like there is no tomorrow because they have never had to worry about not getting what they want due to lack of money. They simply do not understand how it is for most people in America, or they are so divorced from reality that they are incapable of seeing.

Re. "handouts", I tend to dislike that word when it comes to government programs designed to help those in real need. The pervasive conservative line of thought is that such things need to be "earned", and that everyone should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Well, I tend to believe there are situations where some of these programs could be trimmed in scope, but to want to eliminate such programs altogether because those who benefit haven't "earned it" is, to my way of thinking, just plain sad. I find it inhumane to deny people such basic needs as seeing a doctor, getting medical treatment, or having food or a roof over their heads in cases where they are incapable of attaining such things due to obstacles in their way. This gets back to taxing and spending.

"Tax cuts" for the highest wage-earners takes money out of our treasury. The wars take money out of our treasury. Our status as a debtor nation undermines our treasury. Our administration seems to have prioritized the wars, although it will attach high priority to anything which drains or undermines our national coffers... because it will ultimately necessitate the removal of government assistance programs from our national budget, and what? Cause them to become the business of churches?

I believe that to support such policies as Bush-Cheney push is to support the facilitation of a coming economic collapse that will basically place EVEN MORE Americans into situations where we need government assistance, or assistance of some kind. Removing such programs by financially starving them will not make Americans LESS dependent on outside help, it will make them MORE so.

People, they are trying to bring America to its knees.

But maybe it's better to be dependent on the church than on the government, right? The inmates are truly running the asylum in Washington, D.C.

Spending beyond one's means is lunacy. I have personally found out about that the hard way, and I am still learning that lesson. While I have been forced to live more within my means recently, it seems like I am still having to live outside my means just to meet the monthly interest on my debts. I hate to see our government making similar mistakes.

While my mistakes affect my own little financial world, I also like to look not just at my single tree, but at the whole forest... and I can see that the large-scale mistakes our administration is making could actually have a very negative effect on the entire human race.

I am working to solve my personal financial problems, and I am confident that given time and discipline, these things will sort themselves out just fine. I am not so confident about our government, though.

March 25, 2008 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger 1138 said...

We need this stopped Former Presidents Act immediately talk about welfare for the rich and good ideas gone bad.

The President should never get any more than what we allow social security.
Clinton, Carter, Bush, Nancy Reagan - none of them need this money - but they TAKE TAKE TAKE.
I'm with Rev. Wright

March 25, 2008 at 4:57 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Snave: The Republicans don't believe in "throwing money at problems" unless it's the Pentagon or the war on drugs. In those cases they can sure throw money around, especially because it's other people's money.

Starting with Reagan, there were rumors that Republicans were purposely running up a deficit so that we'd have to eliminate social programs. 25 years ago that seemed far-fetched, but it makes perfect sense now. I think that's exactly what the neocons are doing.

If this keeps up, the government will be nothing but the military and the prison system, working hand in glove with a few huge corporations. For that matter it's already kind of like that.

1138: You're right, that law really sucks. They talk about bootstraps and self-reliance for everybody else and a lifetime of handouts for themselves.

March 25, 2008 at 5:23 PM  
Blogger Mile High Pixie said...

You know, I used to read a lot of Suze Orman books/philosophy, and some economist once said, "If everyone actually followed Orman's advice on saving and watching their money, this country would be submerged in a Depression." Indeed, what would the economy do without rampant consumer spending? And indeed, did any of these capitalism-gone-mad people think about what an economy based on that means? Its growth is based on the same principle as cancer cells. Keep spending/growing, folks, it's all good!

Kinda like someone's war effort that I've been reading about in the papers for 6+ years.

March 25, 2008 at 5:59 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Mile High Pixie: Right, that's exactly it. If everybody practiced thrift and living within a budget, our economy would collapse. It's a schizophrenic message we're all receiving: "don't buy anything you can't afford" and "get out there and shop shop shop and stimulate the economy."

Somebody's war effort -- hmmm, what could that be :)

March 25, 2008 at 6:13 PM  
Blogger Miss Kitty said...

Amen, Tom. AMEN.

March 27, 2008 at 8:47 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Miss Kitty: Thanks. Amen.

March 27, 2008 at 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Tom, been missing for a while. Work's been real hectic lately.

Live on a budget? Last time I checked, the president said we should spend to save the economy...o wait, he's not that smart. Ok, guess I better not listen to him.


March 27, 2008 at 11:58 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Jo: Welcome back. But you see, we all have to do both of those contradictory things. If you don't stay within your budget then you're just an irresponsible parasite looking for handouts. And, if you don't get out there and spend spend spend, then it'll be all your fault if the economy collapses.

March 27, 2008 at 12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Americans were buying on credit back in the 1920s. Usually the store managed its own installment plan. When the 1930s came in, this was often the ONLY way a store could survive. I agree that credit and debit cards make it worse, as did our relaxation of the usury laws. In the old days, if you were a bad credit risk, the lender wouldn't lend to you. Nowadays, they'll lend to you, but you'll pay an impossible interest rate.

You also have to consider what "beyond one's means" means. (It doesn't mean "beyond one's station" like in the old country.) Americans haven't had a real raise in pay since the late 1970s despite all the productivity improvements, but they have had much looser lending.

Wasn't there a neat little science fiction story in which some guy found an alien artifact and somehow made a wish, and to his amazement the wish was granted. So, he wished again, and this wish was granted. This goes on for a while, each wish is granted, but not by magically appearing. When he wishes for a chateau, some construction company comes in with all kinds of workers and builds it for him. He wishes for immortality, and even that is granted.

Then, one day, the bill comes due. The guy protests. He thought it was magic, like a genie. The alien enlightens him; the object was a credit card. He's going to have to work off his debt at one of their labor camps, and they are going to take all the goodies away. All, that is, except one. The immortality, they granted for free.

March 28, 2008 at 8:56 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Anonymous: That makes sense about the 1920s and '30s. At least that kind of credit was more personal, more of a case by case basis. The combination of mass assembly-line credit and relaxed usury laws is what got millions of people into the jam they're in now.

I haven't heard of that science fiction story (it sounds sort of like a Twilight Zone episode) but it's a good metaphor. And it isn't too different from the position a lot of people are in these days.

March 28, 2008 at 10:57 PM  

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