One day, the great philosopher Plato discussed with his students the issue of justice. One student said that when you pay your debt you are doing the right thing and that is justice.
I think we Americans can agree with this assessment. Well, how we can pay our national debt (more than $16 trillion) is the question. A reasonable person understands that once you are in debt, a logical solution is to work harder to increase revenue and decrease spending at the same time. As reasonable people, we can understand this logic. Of course, it is a lot easier to say than to do.
As we all know (or should know), we avoided the “fiscal cliff” thanks to an end-of-the-year agreement by Congress (Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a Democratic Senate). The final agreement solved the first part of the problem, increasing taxes for those making more than $400,000 (for individuals) or $450,000 (for couples).
Unfortunately, the agreement failed to address the second part of the problem: reduced spending. So what we have is a short-term fix. Republican members of Congress have made it clear reducing spending is their final goal. President Barack Obama also has made it very clear he is not going to compromise on the debt ceiling issue.
From this simple analysis, we can say both parties are partly right in solving our debt crisis. We can expect another ugly showdown in the next few months.
One thing we have to keep in mind is that our national debt has grown significantly in recent years due to rising annual deficits. A deficit occurs in any year the government spends more money than it makes. The only way to make up the difference is to borrow money, either from domestic or foreign sources. The resulting borrowing creates debt.
Many of us are frustrated with our government. No other country works this way. I’m going to address the issue of why this only happens in our system of government. In so doing, I hope to show you what is wrong with our politicians.
In a parliamentary system, such as England or Japan, the executive head comes from the legislature. Generally, the majority party leader in the legislature will be elected as the executive head. Under this arrangement, whatever the executive head wants, the legislature will approve.
There is no conflict between these two branches. However, if there is a conflict or disagreement between the legislature and the executive head, either the executive head will resign or the legislature will be dissolved, and a new election will follow. Once the new legislature is elected, the new government will start over.
Harmony is the wisdom of this system. Government is efficient and functional.
Based on our Constitution, however, we adopted the separation of powers principle and created three branches of government. By using the principle of checks and balances, no branch of government may be stronger than the other. Individual freedom is protected.
Conflict is the wisdom of our system. Our Founding Fathers thought that, through conflict, better decisions will be made and the common good for all will be served. What our founders did not anticipate is that many politicians today care more for their own political agenda than that of their constituents.
In order to achieve their own individual goal, they refuse to compromise to solve problems. Gridlock is the result. And who suffers the most under this dysfunctional system of government? You guessed it, we, the American people.
Unfortunately, we are not blameless in this problem. We also should be held accountable and share in the blame. Our national debts are not only the government’s problem, but it is our problem, too. The debts will not go away. Sooner or later, we have to pay.
Yet, during these hard economic times, we happily elect those leaders who promise not to raise our taxes or who will not cut good service programs. We do not want to change our lifestyle. Thus, the government has to keep borrowing money to keep the government running. Any type of spending cut inevitably will hurt some groups — think Big Bird.
As a result, we are in this terrible predicament. Our government is a representative one; we elected them to the office to make decisions for us. If we elect the wrong people to run the government, we should be held accountable.
British conservative philosopher Edmund Burke once said, “Democracy breeds mediocrity.” Unfortunately, I cannot disagree. We chose our leaders and are stuck with them. It is sad but true.
Professor Yu-long Ling, a Franklin resident, is an expert in foreign policy.