Friday, June 8, 2012

Federal Spending

As most people are aware, there is a huge battle going on in Washington over spending, with folks like Paul Ryan becoming standard bearers for the conservatives who want to drive the federal government into the toilet and those like Harry Reid who want to have a more balanced approach to dealing with the economy, deficit, debt, and all the rest. It's gotten so bad that presidential candidate Mitt Romney is receiving criticism from conservatives for not being more austere in his approach to budget-balancing.

There are voices who are speaking out for more reasonable solutions, though. Ben Bernanke, the Bush-appointed Chairman of the Federal Reserve, is calling on Congress to spend more money to help stimulate growth in the US economy, rather than continuing to cut. It's a very interesting move for Bernanke, who has been under fire for quite some time now over his handling of the economic crisis in 2007/ 2008. His arguments, though, are valid, and have been echoed among others who see austerity at the federal level as being a response that will lead to outright depression.

Then you have Paul Krugman (of course) who points out that we should really be following the example of Ronald Reagan, just as conservatives have been saying! Of course, the catch is that Reagan's spending increases outpace Obama's and that Reagan actually employed Keynesian economic policies during the recession that he faced. While the situation was rather different, Krugman points out that Reagan's policies, not to mention that "tax and spend" practices of the states, was very effective in bringing the economy around. Because interest rates are so low right now, reducing them is not an option, so spending is the only avenue for growth.

I happen to believe that we need to fund our nation at the state and federal level. We need to see the government paying out for contracts to fix our infrastructure, to revitalize our education and health care systems, and to start looking at more balanced taxation of the wealthy and of major corporations so that we can start paying back our debt. That's the only way to keep growth going in a recession, when people are no longer spending in the marketplace. The government is the only institution that can create demand, create jobs, and fuel the economy when the consumer is not able or willing to.

The problem is, we have a major rift in our government, with deficit hawks (many of them "chicken hawks" according to critics) scouring state and federal governments for excess spending and taxation. We have a large conservative movement that has changed the discussion and has refused to negotiate it's narrow views on spending and taxes in order to get the economy moving again. Indeed they have willingly accepted the failure of the American economy instead of agreeing to strike a deal with those who don't agree with them.

We can analyze the mindset of that conservative branch all we want, and try to understand that quasi-religioous fervor that drives them in this way. But at the end of the day, we need to see progress. We need to have agreements and a government that is willing to work with itself for the betterment of our society. It does not bode well for anyone to have hyper-partisanship dissolve any form of governmental practice before it even starts. People must be willing to come to the table and work out a solution, rather than issuing statements and creating soundbites to disrupt, distort, and dishonor the work that our nation's leaders are meant to engage in.

Spending at the state and federal levels is a major issue at any time, but especially now when our nation needs to come back after being struck down by greed and excess. If we are going to make it as a nation, we have to demand progress and civility in our government. Without that, without common respect and cooperation, we are doomed to collapse and fail as a society. It is an inevitable result of being unable to resolve our differences and understand those who disagree with us. We must be human, human, and humble if we are to succeed in this, and grow stronger through it.

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