Friday, September 21, 2012

Broke by Glenn Beck

People either seem to love Glenn Beck, his tv and radio shows, and his writings, or they simply hate him. I find his sense of humor wonderfully sarcastic, and usually enjoy what he has to say in his books, which are perhaps not as dramatic as his shows. I'm definitely a numbers kind of guy, and Beck lays out plenty of numbers in Broke, without it being mind-numbingly overpowering.

For the most part, he remains fairly non-partisan in this book, laying out the historical evidence why NO administration nor congress since shortly after the turn of the eighteenth century has been fiscally responsible. In the early days of the United States, debts incurred by the federal government, primarily in fighting wars, were discharged as quickly as possible, and to be perfectly fair, taxes were often raised to accomplish that goal, but as soon as the debt was paid, the taxes were discontinued, unlike what happens all too often at all levels of government today. Anyone remember when they told us the raise from 3% to 5% sales tax in Idaho was just temporary?

One passage I found interesting:
"...(President) Johnson's God complex led him to choose the bombing targets himself during weekly luncheons - Tuesdays worked best for his schedule - with no military representatives present. Johnson and two civilian aides literally sat and handpicked the targets (for bombing during the Vietnam War)."

Anyone see any parallels today?

Beck spends about two thirds of the book making the case that our government is out of control (especially with regards to spending), and really doesn't distinguish, as more partisan folks might, betweeen entitlement spending and defense spending as to their relative merits or blame for the problem. It seems common sense to me, though I'm not a Nobel prize winning economist by any stretch of the imagination, that a government, like a household or a business, cannot continue to spend more than it takes in, year after year, decade after decade, without paying the piper at some point. The results of our debt problem could be catastrophic for the U.S., and for the world as well.

His prescription for the solution, however logical and necessary it appears to be, will just flat never happen, I'm afraid. The political will doesn't exist and never has to do what must be done to solve the debt crisis, and by the time we are feeling the pain deeply enough in this country to actually vote out the spineless and corrupt politicians we have today and vote in folks who will do what needs to be done, without any consideration for whether they will be re-elected the next term or not, I fear it may be too late.

The biggest part of the solution, Beck says, is threefold:
1) Pass a balanced budget amendment.
2) Pass a term limits amendment.
3) Pass a line item veto amendment.

Do you seriously think any politician in power today has any real interest in doing these things, much less a majority of those politicians? We're hosed.

Read the book if you want to know more, especially about the history of our massive deficit spending.

One thing that struck me, as I was in the early chapters of this book, was triggered by something Beck wrote:

"Americans don't want to be deceived, but we do want hope. We want to know that if we do our part, work hard, play by the rules, live within our means, then things will turn out all right in the end."

I think this is very true. However, there appear to be two dynamically opposed viewpoints in this country today.

The first viewpoint is that if we do all of the things listed above, somehow or other, the government at either a federal, state, or local level, will do something to screw it up. They'll pass a law, regulation, or requirement that trips us up and keeps us from succeeding, or they'll levy a tax, fee or surcharge that destroys our ability to achieve our dreams.

The second viewpoint is that even if we do all of these things, in some manner "The Man" will conspire to keep us down, to show us our place, and to ensure the status quo. Therefore, only the government, in its slow but steady progress, can provide remedy, redress and recompense, and guarantee that we are taken care of, treated fairly, and given a chance.

I think there are certain points where both of these views are true, places where we can compromise, times when we can get closer to real life. I also think that our political class exploits these extremes in their unending grasp for power, and far too many of them profess to believe in one or the other, but their actions in office belie their commitment.

I'm not sure how we get beyond the extremes at the end of the spectrum and find a solution that works to preserve freedom, opportunity and the pursuit of happiness once again, but certainly it can't be through massive financial irresponsibility, can it?

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