The quick swipe of plastic offers such a comforting lie. When we pay in cash, we immediately kiss that coveted green goodbye, but the credit card offers such a beautiful illusion, a confirmation that life is to be lived for today, forget tomorrow.
Somebody will have to pick up the bill eventually. And, yes, I know it will probably be me, since, of course, my name is on the card. But that’s a future me, not the me of today. So let’s splurge on the lobster. It’s so good, especially dipped in all that butter.
We see now that the culture of reckless debt has infected our nation at every level. We foolishly bite off more than we can chew. And we’ve been promised that the world is truly a playground for those who live in the moment.
Credit card companies have flooded our mailboxes for years, trying to sucker us into massive “put-it-on-my-tab” miseries. There’s so much profit to be made off reckless consumerism and the pileup of interest. And we’ve been too eager to join the crippling financial arrangement. If you really want a big flat screen, you can always find the smiling sales guy who informs you that true happiness is only visible in high def. Just swipe that plastic.
And standing now in a dark alley, we can see that the bright road of American economic growth has been too dependent in recent years on impulsive flat screen purchases backed by plastic promises. We want so much more than we can cover.
The housing market has also been corrupted by unhealthy credit arrangements. Folks wanted to live beyond their means. And they were encouraged to do so by those who stood to profit off their misguided decisions.
Our government has been just as guilty. The Bush Administration will leave office with the debt now at $10 trillion. That’s over $30,000 a person. Sadly, we owe a fortune to China, which now has a truly troubling financial grip on this nation.
“Would we have bailed out Fannie Mae had we not been pressured by its Chinese investors?” asked Rudolph Penner of the Urban Institute’s Tax Policy Center in his article, “The Debt Bomb.”
That’s a valid question. We’re so reliant now on foreign investment that we risk losing some of our autonomy.
Call me crazy, and I’m sure you will, but I don’t understand how the nation can afford tax cuts for anyone right now, not with two wars going, not with a massive bailout promised for Wall Street, not with an aging population that will require our care, not with our debt reaching absurd levels. How many zeros are in $10 trillion anyway?
No doubt, I need a cut. I’m feeling a horrible pinch. Who isn’t? These are tough times.
But I view our national debt as a collective credit card bill that will surely come due. Running up more debt means we’re just adding to the bill, ensuring that the sober people who have to pick up the tax tab later will have an even bigger headache.
I think we all recognize the truth in this, but we know, too, that political candidates can’t win by expressing such truths. We just don’t want to hear it.
Meanwhile, both candidates plan to add to our debt.
“Including interest costs, Obama’s tax plan would boost the debt by $3.5 trillion by 2018; McCain’s plan would increase the debt by $5 trillion on top of the $2.3 trillion increase that the Congressional Budget Office forecasts for the next decade,” read the executive summary on the candidates’ tax plans fom the Urban-Brookings Center.
I understand there’s truth in that old saying about having to spend money to make money. For instance, it was a massive government expense to build an interstate road network, but there was certainly a big payoff.
Not all debt is bad, not when there is something valuable to gain in the long run. But our accumulation of debt in recent years has not been part of some great community development, like an interstate system. No, it’s been a crippling byproduct of live-for-today-and-forget-tomorrow politics.
It truly hurts, but we need to recognize the deterioration of American power that will come if we choose to ignore our bills.
We don’t need to be a plastic nation, not as individuals, not as a whole.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.
Some numbers on presidential tax plans
If you’re like me, you just want some hard figures on tax policies, not waves of passionate rhetoric. The Obama and McCain tax plans both call for modest tax breaks for lower and middle class workers, but those plans substantially differ on appropriate rates for those making over $600,000 a year. A chart published in the Oct. 12 Atlanta Journal Constitution provides figures from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, a non-partisan organization that compiled specific tax proposals from both campaign staffs.
Here is a breakdown of figures provided by both campaigns to the Tax Policy Center:
•The bottom fifth: Workers making roughly $19,740 or less a year will receive an average federal tax cut of $698 under Obama. Those making $18,981 or less will see an average $101 cut under McCain.
•The second fifth: Those making between $19,740 and $38,980 a year will receive an average cut of $1,589 under Obama. Those making $18,981 to $37,595 will receive an average $763 cut under McCain.
•The third fifth: Workers making between $38,980 and $69,490 will get a cut averaging $2,197 under Obama. Those making $37,595 to $66,354 will receive an average $1,441 cut under McCain.
•The fourth fifth: Those making between $69,490 and $117,535 will get an average cut of $3,356 under Obama. Those making $66,354 to $111,645 will receive an average cut of $3,110 under McCain.
•The top 20 to 10 percent: Those making between $111,645 to $160,972 will get an average cut of $5,478 under McCain. Those making between $117,535 and $169,480 will receive an average cut of $5,016 under Obama.
•The top 10 to 5 percent: Those making between $160,972 and $226,918 will get an average cut of $7,692 under McCain. Those making between $169,480 to $237,040 will receive an average cut of $6,104 under Obama.
•The top 5 to 1 percent: Those making between $226,918 and $603,402 will receive an average cut of $14,395 under McCain. Those making between $237,040 and $619,561 will get an average cut of $6,151 under Obama.
•The top 1 percent: Those making between $603,402 and $2,871,682 will receive an average $126,902 tax cut under McCain. Those making between $619,561 to $2.8 million will receive an average $19,274 tax increase under Obama.
•The top .1 percent: Those making $2.8 million and up will receive an average $163,423 tax increase under Obama and a $680,157 tax cut under McCain.