It’s all around us, whether we want to admit it or not. When we go for a drive, on the freeways or the streets, we are surrounded by it. When we go for a walk in our neighborhoods, we see it in yard after yard. When we go on vacation, our adventures are fueled by it. In our homes, our lives of comfort are enabled by it. It’s debt — lots and lots of debt.
While it doesn’t apply to all Americans, many, if not most, Americans go to work each day to get out of debt (and, ironically, accrue more of it as we go along). From our cars to our homes, our flat-screen TVs to our Macs to our children’s game consoles, down to the bare necessities, we make payments, month by month, year by year, until that one day when our bills are paid and we finally get to truly proclaim, “I own this!”
The problem is this: We have become so comfortably numb to this idea of debt that when government officials talk about billions or trillions of dollars worth of debt, it is easy for us to think this is normal. One person can get into tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars worth of debt, and that seems normal. We sign contracts and make deals. Banks trust us with inordinate amounts of money with the faith that not only will we repay these loans, but also pay them back with interest. Our country and much of its infrastructure was built on this system, and to the naked eye, this appears to have been a success.
Unfortunately, when federal and state governments talk about debt, our nonchalant attitude toward owing money has created a mega-crisis in numerous states that some experts believe will come crashing down on the public within the next 12 months. According to a 60 Minutes report, “A day of reckoning” — with state governments scrambling to balance their budgets with shrinking revenues while handing out IOUs to contracted workers and essential services, from road construction to education to criminal detention, all at risk — is ahead. On a local level, municipalities will be squeezed as state governments use monies skimmed from cities to balance state budgets. On a federal level, the stimulus package money that kept states afloat during the recession is almost dried up, and with its own multitrillion-dollar debt, the possibility of another bailout seems unlikely.
At home, our state is facing yet another budget deficit, this next fiscal year is estimated to be a $19 billion shortfall. But Californians simply don’t seem to understand the depravity of the situation. In a survey of 1,000 Californians this past summer conducted by Pew Center on the States and the Public Policy Institute of California, half of the participants believed state spending could be reduced by 20 percent or more with no impact on services. The report, however, points out that the state would have to do away with the equivalent of its entire prison system, all welfare programs and all transportation spending to save that much.
The debt our state and country is in is not a fictional number. Businesses and people who are due money from working for the government are being forced to sell assets, obtain loans and donations to survive until the government pays them what they worked for. Millions of people working in public institutions have an unknown future. In the meantime, Congresses passes tax cuts for everyone while they cry shamelessly about our nation’s debt, and then turn a blind eye. The tax cut deal will add an additional $858 billion to our ever-burgeoning national debt, which stands at $13.8 trillion. To balance the federal budget, every American would have to pay $44,000.
According Kimberly Amadeo, author of Beyond the Great Recession, our country is headed on a downward spiral specifically due to the national debt. The primary issue appears to be decreased foreign investment and the weakening of the dollar. As she puts it, “Many of the foreign holders of U.S. debt are investing more in their own economies.
Over time, diminished demand for U.S. Treasuries could increase interest rates, thus slowing the economy.
Furthermore, this lessening of demand is putting downward pressure on the dollar. That’s because dollars, and dollar denominated Treasury Securities, are becoming less desirable, so their value declines. As the dollar declines, foreign holders get paid back in currency that is worth less, which further decreases demand.”
Not only has something gotta give, it is certain something is gonna give, and no one is prepared for the time when various states in our country, possibly including California, becomes insolvent. Until we get realistic about what we expect, if not demand, in the area of services from our government and what we are willing to give up, and how much we are willing to increase what we contribute, the outlook of the possiblity of ever fully recovering from this recession is dismal.