A Herculean Effort For One Person

State of the Union

I can think of lots of legitimate reasons not to watch the State of the Union address. Maybe you have a date, or you’re busy Netflixing, or you don’t own a TV, or you’re putting the finishing touches on that Death Ray in your garage, or you’re just not that interested in politics. But there are also lots of bad excuses, and chief among them is that you’re busy single-handedly paying down the national debt.

Let’s look at how the nation’s budget works; it’s pretty much like a personal budget, except for all the excruciatingly complicated details. You have your receipts (that’s money you take in) and you have your expenditures (that’s the money you pay out). If your receipts are greater than your expenditures, congratulations! It’s a surplus! (Note: this almost never happens.) In that case you can pay down some of the national debt, about which more in a moment.

In the much more likely scenario that your expenditures outstrip your receipts, you have a deficit. The national debt increases because you must borrow money to make up the difference.

(Actually, you don’t have to borrow money. If you have your own sovereign currency, you can always print more money, but that has the unwanted side effect of reducing the buying power of the money that already exists. That’s called inflation, and nobody wants that. In this respect the federal government’s monetary strategy differs greatly from your own: if you print your own money and declare that you can use it to settle your debts, you’re not likely to get very far with it.)

So the key to paying off the national debt is to take in more money than the government spends. One way to increase revenue is through taxes, which Uncle Sam collects every time you get paid, buy something, or bribe a public official. No wait…scratch the last one. So unless you get paid under the table, you contribute to the effort to pay the nation’s bills just by going to a job.

So I guess I can buy the woman’s snappy answer if she was at work. She could have just said that, but then she would have missed a golden opportunity to take a thinly veiled jab at the Obama administration (whom many conservatives blame for the current astronomical debt). Of course that blame is unfair, as Daniel Gross explains in The Daily Beast: many of the debt explosions that have happened during the Obama administration were set in motion by Republican and Democratic Congresses in years past; to put it another way, a lot of financial chickens have come home to roost at the same time. The debt was going to balloon no matter who was in the Oval Office.

So calm down, snarky lady. Good for you for doing your part to help the government pay its bills, but too bad that you don’t have a better understanding of where or how your money is spent. Hey, I don’t get every nuance of the nation’s budgeting policies myself…but you don’t see me making smartass memes about it.

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