In spite of such obvious warning signs of disaster, politicians from all developed countries continue to routinely choose only one oPMion, increase spending. Like the past, the future will see ever increasing budget deficits and ever greater levels of national debt. The fact of the matter is that even when politicians realize that they must somehow reduce spending, the people who put them in office will not let them. In France, when the government started to tinker with its bloated welfare system, the entire country went on strike for nearly a month. The government was left with only one oPMion; the continued handing out of ever larger installments of cash to the public. Apparently the French either do not realize or simply do not care that their government cannot afford its now cumbersome and out of date social welfare system.
In the US, such misinformed thinking also persists. Yes, the Republican controlled Congress has recently made a great deal of noise about balancing the budget. The individuals involved may even be sincere, but like all politicians their primary objective is to hold on to their jobs. They may talk a great deal about cutting spending, but they understand that their constituencies will oust them from office the minute they cut back funding for even one local government-goody program. So instead they focus on goody programs in some far off land, a program that is equally defended by its local representative.
On a national level, politicians such as Bill Clinton score points by defending programs such as medicare and medicaid, regardless of whether or not the country can afford such luxuries. Absolutely no one talks about cutting back defense spending. Even though the cold war has ended and such massive spending can hardly be justified, the politicians concerned realize that any adjustment made to this major part of the budget would affect an even more important element of their constituencies, big business. Without big business to fund his immensely expensive campaigns, any eager politician would quickly find himself out of a job. In the world today, our elected representatives dare not tinker with such programs, no matter how outdated or cumbersome they have become.
If you require any proof of the likely amount of change that will come about under this “new” Congress just look at their efforts to date. The showdown at the end of last year between Clinton and Gengrich again was much more about political clout and job stability than any of the issues actually involved. If they really did want a balanced budget, then why not slash spending today? All that has come out of the whole fiasco is a promise to balance the budget, tomorrow. We all know what that means. As usual, in the end all that really happens is that the government continues to spend money at a rate that would even put an errant lord to shame. Republican or Democrat really makes no difference. Remember that it was Ronald Reagan, a Republican, that got the country into this mess in the first place.
Ironically, the one thing that the politicians did manage to demonstrate as a result of the US government shutdown is how unnecessary they really are. Did the world come to a grinding halt the minute the government closed its doors around the world and sent 800,000 employees home because it could not afford to pay them? Of course not, even the media, at least outside of the US, seemed to barely take notice of the fact that the world’s only remaining superpower was forced to shut down shop because of financial woes. The few stories that did appear concerned the poor little schoolchildren who travelled all the way to Washington. We saw their sad faces in front of the Washington monument, which they could not ascend because Uncle Sam had run out of cash.
No one seemed to question the fact that if the government can survive for a couple of weeks minus 800,000 staff members then perhaps it could survive a lot longer minus somewhere in the area of 500,000 staff members or more. If the US government really wanted to slash spending, it could start by firing each and every one among its own ranks who has never done an honest day’s work. In my opinion, more than 80 per cent of the public sector payroll could be eliminated in one day. I believe this holds true for all developed countries. Taxes could come down to something resembling humane levels. Even then your government would run a current account comfortably above five per cent of GDP. Nonetheless, I fear that such a miracle is far from a realistic possibility. Instead, I fear that governments will resort to far more sinister methods to save their sinking ships.