SOUDER: The end of the world, a fiscal cliff and some $80 billion deck chairs

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By Chuck Souder

If the Mayans were correct, this will be my last column. As I’m sure you’ve heard, some say that the ancient Mayans predicted that the world would end on December 21, 2012.

With the benefit of hindsight, some pundits have noted that it’s now obvious that the world can’t go on without Twinkies.

Others, such as AFC North football fans, have pointed to another sure sign of an impending apocalypse: last Sunday the Cleveland Browns won, while the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals, and Baltimore Ravens all lost. If you follow professional football, you know that means something weird is going on. 

And, according to the Mayans, that ‘something weird’ is that the world as we know it will come to an end next Friday.

Most would see that as bad news. But, in every cloud there is a silver lining.

For example, since that is before my next deadline, I would be spared the trouble of composing another 1000 or so witty (yet compelling) words, and you would be spared of wading through any more of my witty (yet compelling) columns.

And here’s even more good news: if the world ends next Friday, we will be spared any further noise out of Washington, DC regarding the current crisis-to-end-all-crises, the so-called fiscal cliff.

For any who aren’t familiar with this coming calamity, or who think it is too complex for mere mortals like us to understand, in the famous words of Inigo Montoya, from The Princess Bride, “Let me 'splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

In the summer of 2011, in an attempt to avoid the then-current crisis-to-end-all-crises, raising the federal government’s ‘debt-ceiling’ limit, and to ensure that politicians wouldn’t have to talk about such grim matters in an election year, Congressional leaders came up with a ‘serious’ plan to address their out-of-control spending.

To ‘splain that, I turn it over to that bastion of helpful information, Wikipedia: “On August 2, 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act of 2011 as part of an agreement to resolve the debt-ceiling crisis. The Act provided for a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (the ‘super committee’) to produce legislation by late November that would decrease the deficit by $1.2 trillion over ten years. If the committee failed to do so, as it in fact has failed to do, another part of the Act directs automatic across-the-board cuts (known as ‘sequestrations’), split evenly between defense and domestic spending, beginning January 2, 2013. Also, the Affordable Care Act imposed new taxes…starting at the same time.”

So, the term "fiscal cliff" refers to the simultaneous spending cuts and tax increases that are slated to take place at the beginning of 2013. The theoretical idea behind the Budget Control Act of 2011 was to make the consequences of inaction so distasteful – tax increases for Republicans and spending cuts for Democrats – that it would force both sides to come together to make the necessary, but politically difficult, changes.

I say ‘theoretical’ because, as they have proven time and time again, politicians have a near supernatural ability to do avoid doing the right thing.

So, do we really have a bona-fide fiscal crisis on our hands? Absolutely and without doubt.

It is impossible to continue our current level of deficit spending and avoid an eventual total meltdown of our economy. Unfortunately, none of the proposed solutions do much about it.

For example, if you watch the nightly news or read the newspaper, you’ll know that the issue that is getting all the headlines is President Barack Obama’s plan to raise tax rates on the top 2% of earners. To hear the president tell it, in order to solve our current financial dilemma, we need to take a “balanced approach”.

That sounds good until you realize what he means, which is along the lines of “we’ll raise taxes now in exchange for spending cuts that we’ll decide on later…trust me.”

And, despite all evidence to the contrary, recent polls show that a significant percentage of Americans have once again bought in to the deceptive rhetoric. In fairness, the president’s tax increase on ‘the rich’ is projected to bring in an extra $80 billion each year. Unfortunately, that is only enough to fund the government for about a week. Literally.

You see, the real problem isn’t that the government takes in too little, it’s that it spends too much. Our federal government is poised to post another $1 trillion deficit in fiscal year 2013, which would mark the fifth straight year it has done so.

In case you were wondering, the record before that was $438 billion, which came in 2008, President George W. Bush’s last full year in office.

So, arguing about $80 billion in potential new ‘revenue’ out of a more than $1 trillion deficit is like arguing over re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic—you can do it if will make you feel better, but in the end the boat still sinks.

Now, I know any discussion of budgets, deficits or debts that are given in terms of billions or trillions make most people’s eyes glaze over faster than listening to Ben Stein read the dictionary, so allow me to try to put things into terms that might be easier to understand. 

In the spirit of the season, consider this: if you were alive when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and spent $1000 every minute from then until now, you still wouldn’t have spent as much as our government borrowed in the last year alone. Merry Christmas!

Or how about this: so far this fiscal year, the federal government has borrowed 46 cents of every dollar it has spent.

To put that into perspective, suppose you make $54,000 per year, but instead of managing your money wisely and living within your income, you throw fiscal restraint to the wind and spend $100,000.

Congratulations! Your spending habits now correlate with the federal government’s. Unfortunately, unlike the federal government, you can’t print your own money, so your ride on the gravy train will be much shorter lived – though the outcomes will eventually be the same.

And that’s the real issue: eventually the whole financially unstable house of cards we have been building over the past few decades will collapse.

In the Bible, Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God [or the financial principles He put in place] cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”

Perhaps the Mayans were right, and now is when we’ll reap the destruction from the irresponsibility we have sown. But regardless of what happens this time around, eventually the ‘fiscal cliff’ will be real, and the fall will be harsh.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for any last minute gift-giving ideas, I have a few deck chairs to sell.


Chuck Souder is on staff at Shelby Christian Church.  If you have questions or comments for Chuck, he can be reached at csouder@shelbychristian.org