Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Balanced Budget: Theory vs Reality

I've long made a joke that credit cards are evil. But that's not true. When a person who is responsible with their money uses them responsibly, they are not evil at all. Try renting a car or making a hotel reservation without one. Credit cards also offer a level of protection when you make purchases. For instance, if you buy something online, and you're unhappy with it, or it's never delivered to you, you have the option of disputing the charges. It can protect you from many of the possible dangers of purchasing something from an unknown company.

The problem is that many of us do not use them responsibly. When my wife went back to school to finish her degree, we were making very little money. We were basically living off student loans and our cards. By the time she got out of school, we had racked up thousands in debt. We were buried with it and finding it difficult to dig our way out. We considered bankruptcy.

We went to a credit counseling service, chopped up our cards, and made monthly payments until we were out of debt. It's a liberating feeling to make that final payment on your cards. We haven't looked back. We no longer use them. If we can't afford it, we don't buy it. We have learned the hard way that we're better off without credit cards. It doesn't make them evil. It just means that we're not responsible enough to use them responsibly. Because of our access to "money" on our cards, we were spending more money than we were making. We were running a budget deficit every year.

Does this remind you of our federal government at all?

Since the early 1960s, our federal government has run budget deficits every year except 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. They spend more money every year than they receive in tax revenues.

Many have brought up the idea of a balanced budget amendment. This would force the federal government to balance their budget every year, and eliminate budget deficits.

In theory, I disagree with this approach. But in reality, it needs to be considered.

Why? It's kind of like credit cards. In theory, credit cards are useful and offer purchasing protections for consumers. But in reality, many consumers use them to buy products they cannot afford.

In theory I oppose a balance budget amendment. In times like these when our country is in a recession, or is coming out of a recession, tax revenues to the federal government are down. A balanced budget amendment would force the federal government to reduce services during a time we need them the most.

But reality shows us a different picture. If the federal government ran budget surpluses during the good times, we could trust them to make good decisions and allow them to run budget deficits during the bad times. The problem is that our government does NOT run budget surpluses, even during the good times. They just continue to increase spending in good times and bad.

They are not responsible with our money, and they need to chop up their credit cards. It's time for a balanced budget amendment. It would be good for our country, and ultimately, good for our economy.

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