The US isn’t creditworthy? Oh, I’m glad that Standard and Poor’s index let me know, because the raging amounts of debt and Congressional shitwittery didn’t tip me off.
Today the news is plastered with stories about how the S&P index has lowered the US Credit Score from AAA down to AA+, which, to anyone with an elementary school education, sees like being changed from a score of Super Mega Happy Smile Kitty Face Sunshine to Super Mega Happy Smile Hedgehog Face Rainbow (because everyone loves kittens and sunshine more than hedgehogs and rainbows.) Even so, this is a big deal, as the transition from kitty to hedgehog notifies investors and countries worldwide that our ability to repay our debts is not the shining symbol of perfection that it apparently has been during the past 10 years (you remember, those years where we squandered our national surplus and bailed out companies from financial ruin without stipulations as to how we’d get that money back, then watched those companies post huge bonuses and profits for themselves and their shareholders. Man, those were the days).
Funny, I remember that once upon a time, the Federal government got angry at mortgage companies for giving loans to people that they knew pretty well couldn’t pay those loans back. It was called sub-prime lending, and it kicked the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed crap out of our economy. As foreclosures began en masse across the country, we figured something out: giving credit to people who aren’t creditworthy doesn’t end well. In fact, some would say that the idea of not providing credit to those who aren’t worthy is implied in the definition of creditworthiness.(This is definitely not me saying people who have bad credit should never receive credit.) I am saying that when the entire market creates a habit of making what the average financial consumer could call a “poor idea,” there just might be a problem.
So, let’s extrapolate a bit and pretend that an entire government, perhaps the world’s premier national government, makes a slew of “poor financial ideas.” Let’s pretend that the government decides to increase spending by millions, billions of dollars every year without any serious increase of taxation or solid plan of how to make back the money it’s spending. Let’s pretend that the government sets a “debt ceiling” to give people the impression that one day they’ll cap their spending, instead simply resolving to raise that ceiling whenever they hit it. And, finally, let’s pretend that when it comes time to be proactive and start figuring how to pay back debts and handle spending, politicians spend weeks in the limelight of the media circus campaigning and stroking themselves off until zero-hour while the public sits and watches. Do you really need S&P to tell you that this country isn’t creditworthy? Perhaps, in fact, it would be a good idea for people to stop pouring as much money into our coffers until we learn how to work with each other and learn what to do with the cash. Then again, it’s not just the politicians with the problem.
I could sit here and lambaste politicians all day, but the truth of the matter is that it’s only partially the politicians’ fault. It might be 85% their fault or something like that, but that’s not the point. See, even when politicians are catering to the demands of lobbyists, they’re still elected by the constituency. We’re the ones taking the little power we have and throwing it into a ballot-box trash can each election. Voting doesn’t matter when you only do it once every four years.
Imagine that your manager walked into your job and decided who was going to work there, firing and hiring at will, then simply walked out and let shit happen for four years. Then, regardless of what ACTUALLY happened during that time, the manager came back and did new hiring and firing based simply on what they heard about on occasion between episodes of Jersey Shore, 16 and Pregnant, and The 700 Club. Your manager might pay attention when the bills aren’t being paid and the lights are just about to be turned off, but if there’s no immediate crisis, nobody is paying attention. How effective could that manager possibly be? And does this situation sound familiar?
It’s not the U.S. government that’s not creditworthy; it’s US. We, as a nation, ALL OF US, have allowed government to spend and spend with no solid revenue source. The solution is pretty basic, really: If you want government services, you have to pay for them with taxes. If you don’t want to pay taxes, you can’t have government services. The U.S. is one of the most under-taxed nations in the world, with some of the cheapest fuel prices as well. We asked the government to make money and resources appear out of thin air, and it did what we asked. And now we’re seeing our money turn back into air, but I still don’t get the sense anything will change just yet.
D.C.’s politicians were able to get their camera time and eventually create a last-minute deal we all knew would happen to avert our impending financial doom. And who the hell knows the difference between AA+ and AAA anyway? It’s all a matter of comparatives, regardless; so long as American Treasurys are the comparative best option out there, it doesn’t matter what our credit score is, since people will still buy. Journalists still have something to write about, politicians still have something to campaign about, and we still have news to feed on. Things will change regardless of whether or not we pay attention, but nothing will get any better until we get involved, until we know what happens on a regular basis and decide to do something about it.
Here’s the thing about belt-tightening: you have to wear the belt to tighten it in the first place. In my mind, the Blues and the Reds are BOTH RIGHT; we need to raise taxes AND cut spending. We’re in the middle of a financial nightmare that is about to become an even more striking reality, and perhaps we’ve reached the point where we need to compromise and show the world (and ourselves) that we actually CAN make tough decisions under pressure, that we can change the American status quo and climb back on top of that Kitty Face Sunshine pillar of finance.
Actually, that’s a kinda creepy pillar. Maybe I’ll stick around the hedgehogs for a while.
Upper of the Day: Check out pictures of hedgehogs. If these don’t make you smile, check the bottom of your shoe, as you may not have a soul. (Get it?)