Friday, March 18, 2011

It's not their ice cream

Author's note:  I wrote this article last fall during the 2010 election season.  The message is still important today.  Yesterday I heard an ABC news anchor ask the question whether Gov. Walker was "mean".  Elected politicians who make difficult decisions to cut spending are not mean; they are courageous.  It would be far easier to continue spending taxpayers' money and look like a hero to various recipients of government largesse. 

When I was in high school, I worked at an ice cream shop, scooping ice cream, making frappes, ice cream soda, and sundaes.  We were taught how much ice cream to put on the 15-cent and 25-cent cones.  Some kids would come in and want me to put more ice cream on the cone than I was supposed to.  I wouldn’t do it.  Sometimes my friends and classmates called me “mean” for not being generous with the ice cream.  I vividly remember thinking “It’s not my ice cream.”

The same principle applies to government spending. Several years ago when I was volunteering at the Republican booth at the Caledonia County fair, a young woman came by and said,  “I am going to vote for Bernie.  He helped me pay for college.”  When I told her taxpayers paid for her college tuition, she gave me a quizzical look. 

 Representative Welch, Sen. Sanders and Sen. Leahy swoop into Vermont towns and cities with checks from the federal government.  They get their pictures taken with happy constituents and garner free publicity for their campaigns.  They brag on their web sites and in interviews about massive government programs  they say will help ordinary Vermonters.  They are applauded for their generosity.

But it’s not their ice cream.  It is ours—the taxpayers—and increasingly our children’s and grandchildren’s ice cream.  Our congressional delegation is spending our money to aggrandize themselves and help their re-election efforts.  It is no coincidence that Sen. Leahy has been re-elected in Vermont for the last 35 years.  He is a senator with a trifling legislative record and a dangerous propensity to gossip.  He has been in two Batman movies and is on GQ’s best-dressed list.  His political philosophy is to follow the national Democratic Party and agendas without deviating.  But he brings in taxpayer’s ice cream to Vermont, so he wins elections. 

This system has resulted in a  government debt of  more than 12 trillion dollars.  But the news is far worse.  Before this year, government debt was partially funded by social security tax income because social security income was higher than the benefits paid out.  So the social security surplus was “lent” to the government to pay for other government programs.  In February 2010 the Social Security Administration started paying out more in benefits than it collected in taxes.  The Social Security administration is now calling in its IOU’s from a federal government that is already awash in debt.   Because the federal government has no money, it will be forced to take on even more debt to pay its IOU’s to the Social Security Administration.  Moody’s Investor Services has recently warned that the traditionally gold plated U.S. credit rating could be downgraded in the future because of its enormous debt.  That means even more bad news:  a lower credit rating results in  higher interest rates on the debt, which will burden taxpayers even more.   And if the government prints more money to pay the debt, that will mean higher inflation. 

Congress’ “generosity”  with taxpayer’s money will lead to impoverishment of our children and grandchildren who must shoulder this massive debt and suffer from higher inflation. 

To be sure, those who advocate spending restraint will be called “mean” by some.   What is truly cruel is to spend other people’s money to garner more power and acclaim while presenting the bill to future generations.


  1. More relevant now than before!

  2. This is right on. Working for someone should mean that you do everything you can to benefit that person while you're working. You are not there to sneak things from the employer or take advantage of the employer to benefit someone else, but to serve the employer the best you can. A job is not a right; it's a privilege and a responsibility to your employer. In exchange for pay, you agree to represent the person's best interests -- whether that be the taxpayers' interests if you're a teacher -- or whether that be the ice cream shop owner's interests if you're a server. People often confuse their responsibilities as workers with what they consider to be rights -- like the "right" to a job or the "right" to free ice cream for themselves or for the customers they serve. An ice cream server at an ice cream shop will think she represents the customer's interests, not the owner's, or the teacher at a school will think she represents the children she teaches, not the taxpayers who are also the parents. Similarly, Congressmen need to know that they represent us, the voters, not the special groups they serve. While we as voters may be happy to occasionally help out special groups through our representatives, we still expect our representatives to account to us, not to the special groups.