Of all the crazy propositions being thrown around in the current debt crisis talks, the tough, ‘zero tolerance’, ‘no tax increases ever’ seem craziest to me. For one thing, every cut is a cost of living increase on the people who lose a service. Another fact of life is that you have to expect the unexpected. We got government help for last year’s floods, and the Mall looks better when it’s not underwater. We can’t write inflexibility into our Constitution and expect our kids to go back on the gold standard.
This all reminds me of the magazines, like Women’s Day, I read when I was a teenager. There was an article about a housewife who decided that the weekly grocery budget for her family of four should never exceed $20.
Even in the sixties this made grocery shopping a full time job. The woman spent hours clipping coupons, and drove many miles burning the cheap gas of the good old days because Krogers was selling apples 2 cents cheaper than Star. She sent her husband to work with a peanut butter sandwich, or a cheese sandwich, on alternate days. She weighed her kid’s snacks. The kids were probably doing other kid’s homework for candy money, or majoring in home ec so they could be around food, but so help her God, she never spent more than $20. This woman had faith. She could stand on her principles. She was demented.
Even in the late sixties inflation was nibbling at her $20, forcing her to deprive her family to stay within her budget. The value of money in relation to groceries varies according to forces much larger than one thrifty woman can control, even if she is obsessed. She might be smart to spend more on the 2 for 1 pasta sale and save later, just as a homely example. Or, for the love of God, get a part-time job before the kids get rickets.
‘Money is just a form of energy’, say the New Agers, and they are twits. Money is real enough, but is not changeless in value. If you leave your baby in a burning house to save your wallet you’ll be counting your bills in jail, right? But it’s a virtue to defund fire prevention and public safety? Our children are not being hurt by cuts in education? We should let the old people end up in homeless shelters?
I don’t know what clump of sausage will come out of this mess in Washington. I’m not an economist. But even I can see that starving the government and feeding the corporations will leave citizens on the losing side.