Finally sane talk from government
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Beth Cody, Writers' Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen

There has been a lot of discussion lately about spending cuts in the state of Iowa. Articles have appeared in this paper about newly-elected Governor Branstad planning cuts to government programs: pre-school, mental health, employees, etc.

It is the first sane talk I have heard from government, perhaps during my entire lifetime. It's about time we try to get spending under control, even if only at the state level.

But many people seem to believe that every threatened cut bodes dire suffering.

However, spending cuts only seem like the end of the world if you believe that the only way to help people who truly need help is through government programs. That is simply not the case.

Families, churches and community charities have traditionally helped those in need, and we will find ourselves turning more to them once again as government programs reveal their undependable nature.

This will actually be good for us in the long run, bringing us closer to our families and communities, but it is terrible that so many people will suffer because they have grown dependent on promises that cannot be kept.

Because, make no mistake, the promises of politicians to give us other people's money cannot be kept.

It is far better to cut spending and government jobs now while the economy is still in decent shape – and no, I haven't missed the recession of the past several years and the lingering high unemployment rate. But consumers are still spending and business are still hiring some people. I believe that things will get much worse later on.

When state governments like California, New York and Illinois start defaulting on their debts and obligations such as paying government workers, the unemployment rate in those states will get a lot higher very quickly.

And although many people believe that the federal government will "bail out" those state governments rather than allow them to default, as they bailed out banks a couple of years ago, this would be a huge mistake, for two reasons:

First, it will engender immense ill-will between the states. Citizens in fiscally-responsible states will deeply resent being made to pay for the excesses of public employee union-controlled, profligate states. This will weaken the psychological bonds between the states in the Union, perhaps fatally. It will hasten us down the path to secession by one or more states (which, if the federal government hasn't already become completely bankrupt, may result in the worst of horrors, civil war).

Second, the federal government can ill afford to bail out several (or more) states. It already has hopeless fiscal problems. It is only a matter of time (probably a couple of decades) before the federal government will be forced to default on its obligations, either outright or through runaway inflation (which will only delay the outright default and make it more painful). State bailouts will accelerate the national default.

At that point, we will likely be able to rely on government for only the most basic law and order. Drastically reduced (or no) Social Security payments, government pensions, government paychecks and welfare payments.

Then there will be immeasurable suffering. Those dependent on government payments will be worst off, but the entire economy will severely contract.

The one hope is for states to become less dependent on federal spending and get their own fiscal houses in order, while they still can. (The federal government will not be able to cut spending, even as it careens toward disaster.)

Individuals and families should also decrease their reliance on government jobs, pensions and welfare/Social Security payments.

Those who decry all spending cuts as heartless should understand that this is why most fiscal conservatives call for cuts: the prospect of future suffering fills us with dread and sorrow.

Encouraging reliance on ourselves, our families and our communities is hardly being heartless; it is our present course that is truly cruel.