Lewis: The blind spot
In general, I am a frugal guy. If you don’t believe me, just ask my wife. I keep us on a budget and debt free and I am the “bad cop” when it comes to spending except for in one area — cars.
True confession. I have a blind spot for cars. When I say blind spot, I mean that my frugality goes out the window. If my wife, Lisa, even mentions looking at a new car, odds are a new one will appear in our driveway the next day. I have even had to rent space to park all my cars. This is something I am working on.
Our federal government makes my passion for car buying seem petty. Our elected officials have overspent their income over the years and now face yet another debt ceiling crisis. I am a conservative by nature and believe that debt, especially national debt, is wrong and that our government should abide by a balanced budget.
Where I don’t agree, however, is how to get there. Buddy Carter (R-GA), a Republican seeking the top spot on the Budget Committee, recently espoused cutting Social Security and other “entitlements” in order to lower the budget deficit.
First off, I wouldn’t think I would need to explain to someone on the house budget committee that Social Security is not an entitlement. It is an earned benefit. Since I was 15, my employers and I have been paying the government 12.4% of my income to “FICA” which is supposed to be returned to me at the retirement age of 65.
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Most of us would have been better off if we saved the money ourselves. On average, it would take almost 20 years (from age 65) to recoup just the principal. Assuming 5% basic interest on your money, the interest would have more than doubled the amount, meaning it would take 40 years to recover your total investment. So, if you managed to live to 105, then you would finally break even.
It is inconceivable to me that Republicans would even bring up the idea of cutting Social Security. Not only is it our money (not the government’s) the concept itself is a third rail and politicians should know it.
Just like me and my cars, the government has a blind spot in terms of certain spending. While we (the U.S.) are relatively frugal in terms of “social spending” (we rank 21st in the world as a percentage of GDP), our spending on defense puts even my car lavishness to shame. Currently, we not only are No. 1 in the world for military spending, but we also outspend the next largest spender, China, by almost three times. In fact, we spend more than the next nine countries combined. Even with this level of spending, our military is often considered to be in disrepair and falling apart. How can this be?
I believe in our military might and a strong defense, but it seems like we have a problem that may require a 12-step program to fix. I know that many Americans, including me, view supporting our military as patriotic. Even an inkling that we need economic rationality when it comes to defense spending is heresy.
Similar as to how I should approach car buying, we should detach emotional support for the military and simply ask the question: What is the appropriate spending needed to ensure our national defense?
If we need the same (or increased) defense spending then, unfortunately, there will be no balanced budget without tax increases. While folks like to talk about cutting “the waste,” if you assume no cuts to Social Security, pensions, veterans’ benefits, loan interest, or defense then there simply is not enough money left to balance the budget.
I believe our legislators need to balance the budget but trying to get there by “taxing” (which is effectively the same as cutting Social Security) the retired and elderly is beyond ludicrous, it’s criminal.
Now, I must go. There’s a new Mini Cooper Lisa wants to test drive.
Mark Lewis, a Colorado native, had a long career in technology, including serving as the CEO of several tech companies. He retired from technology last year and is now writing thriller novels. Mark and his wife, Lisa, and their two Australian Shepherds — Kismet and Cowboy, reside in Edwards.