The news this morning announced the death of a human we will sorely miss also--Senator Robert Byrd. I was not surprised at his passing either because he had grown increasingly fragile for some time. I think we, as a nation, will miss him more than we realize.
I was amused (and not in a humorous way) that the G-20 meetings broke up with most of the governments agreeing to cut their deficits in half within the next two-and-a-half years. Obama had urged them to keep the government spigots open longer to combat the recession. I just did some quick and dirty searches on a couple of topics related to this. I wondered just how the U.S. ranked in the public debt department against other countries--especially those now going the austerity route. I found this site which shows some interesting figures, especially if they are accurate. I wouldn't place any large bets on these figures since I don't know where they got them but they don't contradict what I have been reading elsewhere. The U.S. to GDP ratio is about 40% which is half that of Britain and much less that Spain, Greece, Ireland, and Iceland all of which have caused extreme jitters on the world markets. I can see why the rest of the G-20 is seriously concerned and pushing 'savage' austerity as one economic reporter described it last week.
The next question is--where do you cut. No matter what you cut it will cause economic pain. I can make one suggestion that Republicans, particularly, would not like at all: military. Take a look at this Wikipedia entry that lists nations by their 2008 military expenditures. The U.S tops the list whether you consider dollar amounts or percentage of GDP. Perhaps we should cut our military budgets to the levels of Great Britain (2.5% GDP) or better yet Germany (1.3%)? You might argue that it is a dangerous world out there and we need the military. But I would argue that we haven't gained a security commensurate with our expenditures. The problem is that so much of our economy is supported in one way or another by military spending. Remember how they solved the problem of base closings over a decade ago? They appointed an 'independent' bi-partisan (when the term really meant something) committee to do the dirty work the elected officials had no backbone for. Everyone wanted bases closed--just not the one in their neighborhood. Worse, every major company in the country depends heavily on defense contracts for its profits. How many of them could make it on their civilian products alone?
The Conservatives want sharp cuts in 'entitlements' as they so-nicely label Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social spending programs. Think about the ripple effect through out the economy if those cuts are deep? Let's say you cut Medicare drastically, permanently freeze social security payments, and tell everyone under 50 they will not get either. Lower and middle income recipients would immediately curtail their spending. Many already have because though the official data shows no inflation the prices for what seniors have to buy have in fact gone up. They would simply tighten the purse-strings even more. Especially if they are faced with cuts in Medicare. They might delay treatments, or cut needed medicines. They might wait till their medical needs get critical and then head for the nearest emergency room. Those under 50, faced with the loss of Social Security but, probably, not the canceling of the taxes that support Social Security would have to somehow have to scrape up money they can put aside for retirement. Their spending on other things would have to be curtailed. And many would simply not have enough time to make up for the loss of one-quarter (or more) of their planned income stream.
I have read several blogs over the last few months that scream at the readers that everyone is at fault for the predicament we are in whether it s the BP oil spill or the deficits or our dependence on the public teat for our needs. But our current situation took as much as a century to create. Undoing it over night will take nothing short of a revolution--and a violent and bloody one at that.