SOUDER: Are we living in 2011or 1984?

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From what we hear about the federal deficit and the debt ceiling, it's hard to tell.

By Chuck Souder

In 1950, when George Orwell penned his classic book Nineteen Eighty-Four, he envisioned a future where government officials communicated only through deliberately ambiguous or evasive language. Webster’s defines Orwell’s supposedly fictional future language, called “Newspeak,” as “propagandistic language marked by euphemism, circumlocution and the inversion of customary meanings.”

I am afraid that Orwell was only a few years off with his timeline and that his scenario has arrived in 2011 America.

Though examples of this modern-day “Newspeak” are abundant on the political scene, nowhere are they more evident than in the discussions concerning the economy in general and the so-called “debt-ceiling crisis” in particular.

In case you are not aware, the debt ceiling is similar to the credit limit on your credit card with one huge exception: Whereas the credit limit on your credit card is set by the bank that issued your card, the credit limit for our federal government is set by Congress.

In other words, the very people who continue to run up debt uncontrollably are the same ones that have the power to raise the limit.

If you think this sounds a bit like the fox guarding the henhouse, then you’ve got the right idea and understand how we’ve gotten into the financial mess in which we currently find ourselves.

Unfortunately, if your only information comes from the “Newspeak” coming out of Washington, it is nearly impossible to get an accurate picture of what is really going on.

Economist Thomas Sowell puts it this way, “It is hard to understand politics if you are hung up on reality. Politicians leave reality to others. What matters in politics is what you can get the voters to believe, whether it bears any resemblance to reality or not.”

For example, when a politician talks about “cutting” something, what they nearly always mean is“a decrease in the projected rate of increase.”

In other words, even if the most strict budget plan Republicans have put on the table (the Ryan plan) were voted into law, the national debt will continue to go up.

When politicians talk about “cutting” trillions from the debt, they simply mean that their plan is trillions less than the other guy’s, not that the debt will actually be reduced.

Allow me to illustrate by way of an example.

Suppose you were shopping for a new car, and you had narrowed your choices down to a $60,000 Cadillac and a $20,000 Chevy. After looking at your budget, you decide that though the Cadillac would be nice, the Chevy is what you can afford.

In your overall budget, you rightly understand that your purchase constitutes an expense of $20,000. However, in the “Newspeak” of Washington, D.C., your purchase transaction would constitute a “cut” of $40,000! Neat, huh?

In real numbers, the current national debt – that is, the amount our federal government has borrowed from others – is $14.3 trillion (give or take a few hundred million), and those who are supposed to know say that the government will meet the previously imposed debt limit on Aug. 2.

At that point, say the President and his officials, if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the United States will have to default on its loans, which will send our economy into a tailspin that will make the Depression seem like a picnic.

As a poster on townhall.com recently wrote, this is like saying, “I'm maxed out on my credit card, and if they don't give me more credit, I will be forcedto stop making my payments.”

Of course, there are other options that those of us who have to live within our means understand and put into practice every day.

As Heritage Foundation economist J.D. Foster points out:

“Both immediately and long after it reaches the debt limit, the government would have far more than enough revenue coming in that the Secretary of the Treasury could use to pay interest on the debt. Nor would preserving the current debt limit put at risk the full faith and credit of the United States government, as the President’s chief economic adviser has claimed. The government would continue to pay net interest as it comes due.”

In other words, not raising the debt ceiling would force the government to control spending. Just as you or I might have to quit going out to eat, cancel our cable TV or make other cost-cutting measures, the federal government must make similar decisions.

The reality is that our federal government has grown so large that there are many things that, like cable TV, are nice but not necessary and that could be cut.

Proponents of raising the debt ceiling say that if we don’t continue to spend at current levels, life as we know it will end, old people will be left alone to die, and children will starve in the streets.

In addition, they say that taxes must be raised because there simply isn’t enough money coming in to the government to fund necessary programs. But let’s look at the real numbers.


In fiscal 2011, the federal government will spend $3.8 trillion while bringing in only $2.2 trillion – for a whopping $1.6 trillion deficit. So, at first glance, it does appear that $2.2 trillion is a woefully inadequate amount with which to run the government. However, that fails to take into account the staggering increase in governmental spending in the last few years.

A question I had was this: When was the last time the federal government spent only $2.2 trillion? Was it 1990? 1980? 1970?

No, the last time the government spent less than $2.2 trillion was back in the dark ages of…wait for it…2003. I’m sure you remember that time a short 8 years ago, when children were starving in the streets and old people were left alone to die.

No? Of course not. As I recall, in 2003 there was not mass starvation or any other type of calamity as a result of such a “small” amount of governmental spending.

Of course, some things have changed since 2003, but the point is that, despite the wild-eyed cries to the contrary, the government can obviously operate on substantially less than it is today without major catastrophe.

Unfortunately, what should be obvious is easily lost in the clamor Washingtonian “Newspeak,” where politicians purposefully mislead for their own benefit.

In reality, “Newspeak,” lying while trying to convince others you are telling the truth, isn’t new at all –it’s as old as the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Knowing this, my parents often encouraged me to “say what you mean and mean what you say.” Jesus put it this way, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’, ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

If only.


Chuck Souder is on staff at Shelby Christian Church. He can be reached at csouder@shelbychristian.org