Maybe a year or so after California passed Proposition 13 I asked my late uncle then, who lived in California, what impact it had. He told me that on the surface you don’t really notice it, but when you look deeper you see it. He cited the parks were not open as long or garbage and debris were not picked up as often as examples.
I think that’s what we’ll have with the sequester. Yes, there will some people who will lose their jobs – they are the immediate casualties. There will be parts of the country that will feel it more acutely than others, such as areas where federal workers make up a large part of the workforce. But for many across the country, the actual impacts wouldn’t be noticeable until we look deeper.
As sequestration drags on it might get slower at airport security as fewer TSA workers will be able to screen passengers. Then again, there might be fewer flights because there will be fewer air traffic controllers. Maybe we’ll have more outbreaks of food-borne illnesses as food inspectors are cut back. We could be spending more money on front end alignments as our roads will have more potholes because there won’t be as much money for repairs.
Since we cut back on government spending, over time we’ll find ourselves as a nation struggling to remain in the first tier of nations. Other nations will overtake us in intellectual capital as our government funded research will dry up and theirs will continue. Maybe epidemics will become more commonplace as the Center for Disease Control will not have the staff or resources to respond to outbreaks of diseases in a more timely manner.
We’ll probably start to see more people struggling to get by as already meager government assistance programs will not increase their funding levels as more people move into poverty since economic activity will slow down. Or maybe classroom sizes will increase by 15-20%; academic achievement may decline.
Then again, with less government spending enforcement of business regulations will become lax. Businesses will boom and defending the common people from the effects of predatory capitalism will be gone.
I wonder if a year or two from now that people will notice or care. It’s not as though today life suddenly changed for the nation. If people don’t get sick eating meat, the sequester won’t matter. Airports will tell people to arrive three hours ahead and people will adjust. And if you don’t normally have anything to do with the poor in your daily routine, you might notice more homeless people, but you’ll continue to float above them.
Instead, we’ll complain. We’ll remember how life used to be, but we’ll forget that it was a self-inflicted wound by our national leadership.
Sequestration is not about the debt. If it were, the GOP wouldn’t be holding the line against increased taxes as fiercely as they are now. Earlier this week Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke advised against sequestration. Furthermore, the economy has been gradually getting stronger. Consequently, an increasing number of economists have become less concerned with the debt as the economy could eventually grow to make the debt a more manageable percentage of economic activity. Besides, if it was about the debt, it should have affected Medicare and Social Security, the two programs that are at the heart of the federal budget’s long term sustainability problem.
Sequestration is nothing less than boneheaded. Furthermore, the threats to shut down or cripple our government through various budget schemes were unthinkable five years ago, but have become almost a norm. It is nothing short of being a terrible way to run a government. It has injected a level of uncertainty, which makes businesses hesitant to make investments – then again, maybe the stock market’s performance today (Dow closed at 14,089.66) shows that this gamesmanship no longer worries investors.
Yet, maybe sequestration is a good thing in the long run. Not because it will diminish government, but because it might become a national civics lesson. People might actually understand what government does and has responsibility for. People might come to realize that glib calls to cut government without any specificity are pretty mindless. (Notice that for all the huffing and puffing the GOP makes about government spending, they actually have not put forth any specific programs to cut, nor have they specified any areas to gain revenue through tax reform.) Such a civics lesson, however, will come at a terrible social cost.
Before our national leadership reduces the scope of government, it needs to lead the nation in a conversation about the role that government plays in our daily lives and to what extent that role needs to be maintained, reduced, or expanded. We should spend time trying to figure out what is the appropriate level of government, federal, state, or local, for different government functions. But this is way too much for our political leadership to consider.
Yeah, it’s much easier to do it the way they’re doing it now. Thinking that this is all about spending is pretty shallow. Even on the simplest level we can’t think that our problems will be solved by reducing government spending given that our population keeps increasing. Yet, to believe that we can keep raising taxes on the wealthy is equally shallow.
Realistically, government is delivering more services to us because we demanded it over these decades and our national leaders responded. However, our taxes are not covering these services. Honestly, we all have to pay more taxes. But even this is short term.
We need to think long term. For instance, circumstances in effect at the creation of these programs are not the same today. Earlier this evening, I ran into a former parishioner. He’s 90 years old and looks great – “still standing up,” as he put it. Somehow we got into a passing chat about social security. We noted that its original design did not foresee that people would collect for so many years. He said that when he was growing up he never imagined in his wildest imagination that he would see 90 years old.
That conversation demonstrates that we have to be willing to question long held assumptions. While we might think immediately of our social safety net, we also can’t ignore our foreign policy which is predicated upon a military force second to none. We need to look at ourselves honestly in a mirror and accept that we are nation that has become an empire, but we can’t bring ourselves to fund it.
We also must confront our national sin. We are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world. That we have people whose homes are their automobiles, railroad tunnels, doorways, or abandoned buildings is sinful. That we have veterans who can’t work because they battle psychological demons every day and cannot obtain adequate support in their communities is sinful. Despite clear linkages between poor academic performance in public education and high rates of poverty, that we refuse to deal with a child poverty rate that already exceeds 20% is sinful. When we confront our national sin, we need to ask ourselves, “What sort of nation are we?”
This sequestration is self-centered. Sure, it’s about the size of government and the role of government, but the mindless desire to cut government exposes a deeper truth – an unwillingness to believe that government has a role in promoting and ensuring the common good.
Our political leadership should read and take to heart Psalm 72:1-4, 12-14
Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.
For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.