Monday, September 19, 2011

One thing: we're going to need a bigger kitchen table

I've noticed recently that politicians of most stripes (many should be wearing stripes, but that's for another time) like to analogize around our national economic situation by comparing it with that of a family sitting around the kitchen table trying to make ends meet.

One side talks extensively about not having enough money to spend on unnecessary things. So, the family cuts out the yard man, the pool man, eating out more than occassionally, finds ways to cut the utility bills, etc.  The comparison with the federal government seems to make sense.  We must find ways to cut out the unnecessary and wasteful spending that is included in almost everyone's budget including that of the leader of the free world.  Where it falls down, however, is that it doesn't take the next step.

What if the family has no income or it's income is severely curtailed.  They cut out all the stuff they can't afford anymore, but then they find they still can't afford the things that are: 1) generally important (like health care, taking care of Gramma in the nursing home, making sure the house doesn't fall down); and, 2) what they want (like eating out, going to the movies, cable TV).  So then what?  They just suck it up and persevere?  I don't think so.   I think they go out and find a way to get more money coming in. 

And that, as they say, is where the analogy breaks down.

It breaks down because there is a strata of thinking that says that they (the family) and/or we (the country) don't actually need the extra money to afford the extra things we want.  That they and we should be willing to live more austere lives; do with less. 

Now, would they and we prefer to not have to go out and do what it takes to get more money coming in?  Of course!  They and we would much prefer not to have to do anything to have everything we want, but they and we know that's not how it works.

So to those who say that we, the American people, have to make our lives and this government work just by cutting out the "unnecessary" I say that doesn't work at the kitchen table and it probably won't work in Washington.

Of course, I could be wrong.  One, there are no simple answers--or analogies--to complex political and economic questions; and two, it's just an analogy, after all.