Living Beyond Our Means

Imagine you have been under-employed or unemployed for months. Despite this, you have made no adjustment to your standard of living. You continue making payments on two late-model luxury SUVs, instead of selling them. You continue residing in a suburban monster home abundant with flat-screen TVs and two more bedrooms than your family needs. You dine at high-end restaurants three nights a week.

When you can’t pay the bills, you call up good old Uncle Harry who lives far away in another state. He has lots of cash in the bank and for some reason he trusts you. Just a little groveling on the phone by you and your spouse, and he always puts a check in the mail with a promise that someday you’ll pay him back when things get better.

Imagine Uncle Harry shows up for a visit. He pulls up in a 12-year-old Chevy, which looks pretty dull next to your shiny SUVs. He offers to buy dinner, because he has coupons for a discount at Chick-fil-A. Over dinner, he recalls fond memories of shelving his kids on bunk beds so all could make do with the ramshackle bungalow he bought and refurbished one room at a time. He talks about the joy of finally receiving a senior discount at McDonald’s. There’s unspoken tension in the room. The brats know they live better than the man who’s funding them.

Old Uncle Harry has money because he manages it. He spent his life making sure more came in than went out. Yet he bankrolls fools, who have little regard for money and spend far more than they earn or will ever be able to repay.

In real life, and on a larger scale, Uncle Harry could be Chinese President Hu Jintao, who visited the White House Wednesday. Hu’s country lends unfathomable amounts of cash to the United States. Hu’s country generates more wealth than it spends, and he must be starting to wonder why he’s bankrolling a country to live so far beyond its means. As Glenn Beck noted, the absurdity of the contrast between cash-rich China and the United States was illustrated by the vehicle in which Hu, the lender, arrived. Hu came to the United States on a commercial airliner. Obama, the borrower, travels in his own 747, flanked by a fleet of other presidential aircraft. It’s like Uncle Harry’s Chevy pulling up next to the SUVs he’s paying for. We have all the trappings of a wealthy country, yet we’re living off cash loaned to us by less flashy people who live well within their means. It smells wrong.

The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives has made blanket promises to slash spending, so there’s at least a conciliatory nod in the direction of someday paying back our creditors. Some candidates promised to cut $100 billion from the budgets of each domestic agency. The opposition laughs. Senate Democrats and Obama will never allow it. It would be painful. Students would see smaller grants for tuition. The disabled may have to wait longer for benefits. Aid to public schools would go down. The FBI, NASA, the IRS and the National Parks Service would have to make do with less.

The Republicans can’t possibly prevail with substantial spending-cut proposals. But there’s an unspoken tension in the White House today. Rich old Uncle Harry — aka Hu Jintao — could spoil the fun the moment it dawns on him that he is being had. He could stop lending, causing people of the United States to stop living beyond their means. If that happens, the entitlement crowd can take it up with China.

Republished from the Colorado Springs Gazette, distributed by

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Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

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