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A Few Crazy Ideas

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A Few Crazy Ideas

from the Scenic Route

What to do, what to do? That’s the question facing Americans, and it’s not anything to do with the staggering number of social opportunities we face every day and night. No, we need to decide what to do about the state of the nation, and start asking—no, telling—our elected representatives to do it. Let’s start with the economy, which is not a small subject.

Maybe the first thing Congress needs to do is admit that they don’t deserve raises in this, or, for that matter, any economy. As a group, they’re not doing a great job. In 2006, the average congressional salary was $165,200. Today, the average is $174,000—plus health insurance and retirement—paid for by us. That 5 percent raise, admittedly, doesn’t come close to the real increase in costs, particularly in petroleum and anything attached to it—everything delivered anywhere. But, the national average wage is about $40,000, and four times the average is plenty fair. Even though the savings of Congress reverting to a 2006 wage scale is a drop in the $15 trillion national debt bucket, it would still be a step in the right direction. Someone has to take the first step. Why not our leaders?

That’s just a suggestion. And maybe I would suggest term limits at the same time. A dozen years in elective government is plenty of time, don’t you think?

In the year 2000, our national debt was “only” $5.5 trillion, and we had a budget surplus of $220 billion, with a projected national surplus of at least a trillion bucks by 2010. We were gaining on it. Mr. Bush cut taxes and increased “defense” spending by invading a couple of countries to protect our (petroleum) interests from terrorists. The economy tanked on fraudulent banking practices and panicked investors—which we paid for at least twice. Today, we have a budget deficit of $1.3 trillion, and we are not gaining on it.

Iraq and Afghanistan have cost 5,600 (and counting) American lives and seriously messed with another 40 to 100 thousand, depending on whether you count just the seriously injured or include the “superficially” wounded and psychologically damaged. Then there are the quarter of a million others who have died in our “nation building” exercise. On top of that, depending on how who’s counting, there has been between $1.4 trillion and $2.7 trillion dropped into those two theaters, and another $1.3 trillion coming due soon.

That’s $4 trillion, over a quarter of our national debt. If we had left our soldiers at home repairing and securing our nation, we might not have a national debt. Fixing roads and public facilities may not be as glamorous as getting shot and blown up, but it could be a better use of our soldiers’ time. And, the 5,600 dead would still be with us.

Just a crazy idea.

It’s complicated figuring. I don’t have all the answers, but it seems that “nation building” isn’t good for the economy, with a few exceptions—military contractors, particularly arms manufacturers, love it. In year 2000, the defense budget was $267 billion. In 2010, it was $680 billion, and there’s not much direct benefit to local economies unless you work for Colt or Northrop Grumman. It’s hard to gain financially in the long term from things that get used up in killing each other. Maybe we should quit selling (or giving away) arms to the world and start selling (or giving away) food. Our going-broke farmers like that idea. Plus, there might be a lot less chance of getting killed in certain places in the world, including here at home. Colt and Northrop Grumman, being the nimble companies that they are, will find something else to do (Ha ha ha ha ha! God, that’s funny.).

Just a thought.

It’s not just the government who is sending lots of money overseas. Our trade deficit with China in 2010 was $273 billion, nearly $2 trillion over the last 10 years; with Japan, $780 billion since 2000; and $430 billion with Germany since 2000. That’s over $3 trillion dollars (20-some percent of the national debt) that went overseas without a chance of going through the local multiplier. This doesn’t count the huge number of jobs sent overseas for corporate profit.

Are you figuring it out yet? Maybe “Made in China,” means “I don’t need it.” And, if Big Three auto-makers start making cars as safe and efficient as those made in Germany and Japan, we can sell some to those countries, Detroit won’t be a ghost town, and we won’t have to spend a few billion bucks bailing GM and Chrysler out of their own—ummmm—stuff. They too, being nimble companies, should be able to figure it out (that is hilarious!). (To GM’s credit, my 2006 Cobalt gets better mileage than the new Toyota Scion.)

A few more oddball ideas that might be useful:

What if a company incorporated in the United States, and enjoying all the protections of our laws, was required by such laws to see that their work force, board of directors and manufacturing facilities are in the greater majority—let’s just pick a random number like 80 per cent—living in or located within the boundaries of said country?

What if the owner of a vehicle under a certain age that gets 15 miles to the gallon pays twice as much for gas as the owner of a similarly-aged vehicle that gets 30 miles to the gallon?

What if there was a $1 per gallon tax on recreational gasoline; gas that goes into a boat, ATV, mud bogger, demo derby car, NASCAR racer?

What if we had a law that, if it hasn’t run for five years, a vehicle has to be recycled?

What if we “mined” our back yards and roadsides for metals? Hell, between home and Missoula alone, there is probably enough steel and aluminum to build next year’s models.

What if there was a rule that a bank couldn’t be any bigger than the building that housed it?

What if the law treated bankers who steal the same as is does an unemployed person who steals?

What if we legalized all drugs and put half the money we are spending on a really nasty and terribly inefficient job of enforcement and incarceration into drug education and the other half into jobs for the inner city poor?

What if a welfare or unemployment recipient, after their first six weeks in the system, was given a really good physical, and then, if found fit, required to spend 20 hours a week working as a gardener, street sweeper, garbage cleaner-upper, bridge painter, window washer, floor scrubber...  got any other ideas?

Okay. So some of these ideas are a bit, shall we say, extreme. But, extreme times call for extreme measures, and extreme creativity trumps extreme conservatism. Mr. Einstein defined insanity as continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result. Mr. Jobs said, “Think different.” It’s time to think different.

We can continue to send our money to other continents in the form of nation building and jobs and manufacturing or we can say, “No, we don’t want to do that any more.” We can look at the bottom of that thing we are taking off the shelf at Walmart and see where it was made and make a decision about whether we really need it or not. We can speak very loudly with our paltry $40,000 a year by deciding consciously where to spend it, and telling Congress with our voices and votes what to do with the part we send them. 

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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

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