Lemonade Lessons: Tough choices?

Janie Johnson Contributor
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What do progressives (liberals) want? Just how many decisions do they feel they need to make for us? How much control of our lives do they think is appropriate? If they could wave a magic wand, what would America look like? Would it look like France or Britain or Germany? Are they thinking Canada or Switzerland or Sweden?

It is difficult to imagine there are many Americans who believe that the government really knows best or that it is capable of effectively and efficiently delivering any significant promises of relief or service to a broad section of society, but against all evidence, many do believe.

In support of this belief, many liberal arguments (like the following) are offered on a regular basis: Don’t you think people like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security? Do you want to end these necessary entitlements? As a conservative, wouldn’t you agree that the military is run well? Most government spending is for these safety-net programs or for defense.

Of course, the people receiving these services/entitlements like and want them. If the only measure of the success of these programs were whether or not the recipients found these benefits useful or desirable, then progressives might have a point or two. However, for every entitlement there exists a duty to pay for that entitlement. As has been said many times, when you rob Peter to pay Paul, you can always depend on the support of Paul.

And how about military spending? Does anyone think that all of our military spending is necessary for a strong defense? How many military bases are located in any given state or district just because a powerful elected politician represents that state or district? How many weapon systems are purchased only for provincial political reasons? Does it make anyone weak on defense because they want to address these political military spending priorities? I don’t think so.

The problem is that resources are limited even for an organization as large as the United States. This means there will always be more good things to do than there are resources to do them. Limited resources is not an argument for abandoning those in need, it is an argument for setting priorities. Just like a family or a business, if everything that might do some good cannot be funded, we must do the most important things first.

Does this mean that America may not be able to help everyone in need? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Does the fact that resources are limited imply that the government itself has limitations? It does. So, how do we go about setting priorities? How do we determine what we can do and what we cannot do, whom we can help and whom we cannot help? These are not easy questions for a compassionate citizenry or for our elected politicians.

Where do we begin? My suggestion is that we start with defense. We need to understand and support our strategic interests, but cut out politically motivated defense programs that do not materially add to our security. We all agree that without a strong defense we are all in jeopardy, but most of us know there is waste and abuse in our defense budget. Next I would fund those programs and agencies necessary to ensure homeland security and domestic tranquility. Then I would task our citizens and our elected officials to determine where the need is greatest.

To set priorities on military, homeland security, and domestic safety-net programs, we first need to establish methods for measuring their performance against the performance that was promised when these programs were first approved. This will not be easy for the government, but it is not easy for families or businesses either. Next we must determine the limits of our resources. How much can we tax, how much can we borrow, and how much currency can we print?

Where do we start? We start by remembering the five rules of fiscal responsibility:

1. Don’t spend more than you make.

2. Don’t borrow more than you can repay.

3. Don’t print so much new money that the currency is devalued.

4. Don’t tax achievers so much that they lose the incentive to achieve.

5. Plan and save for a rainy day.

It is often said that the Tea Party movement is filled with philosophical contradictions. Tea Partiers are accused of wanting a smaller government, a balanced budget, and less government spending, but they are also accused of wanting their entitlements in full force.

This indictment of Tea Party members and of all citizens who demand fiscal responsibility assumes that these Americans are not educated or intelligent enough to understand the fiscal and human realities that the progressive elites say they so readily comprehend. It also assumes that average Americans are not able to set spending or even safety-net priorities.

In other words, progressives just do not trust the American people to make the hard choices. Progressives could not be more wrong.

My sense is that Tea Party members, like most Americans, understand that current funding levels for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, public employee pensions, and defense are not sustainable. They also understand that merely eliminating waste and abuse in these programs will not be enough to make them sustainable.

American citizens are realistic and strong. Tough decisions need to be made, and we the people can make them.

Janie Johnson is the author of Don’t Take My Lemonade Stand – An American Philosophy.