But it's also opened up the debate on some volatile topics. Entitlement programs. Taxes. The role of government.
I know. You're thinking "WTF? The Wife gets political? I stopped by to read about some shoes/kids/poker/hot men. Didn't expect political."
I don't usually take a hard line stance. Truth be told, I consider myself a fiscally conservative social liberal. I value things like education, health and human welfare, art, freedom of choice, accepting diversity. But I like to know money is spent wisely. By myself. My family. My business. My government.
Mostly, I just like to debate the issues. I like to hear other people's opinions. Logic. Passion. Illogic. I mean, let's face it. Political views are kind of like religion. A lot of faith and gut feel, a few pieces of anecdotal evidence, and a lot of unsubstantiated or unsubstantiable claims and promises of things to come. A lot of "I'm better than you." And hatred. Just like religion.
The other day at work I ended up in a discussion with some of the folks at work. Now I'm in the accounting field - as you can imagine, a significant portion of my co-workers are fairly conservative. The topic turned to entitlement programs and the tax hikes to come. The arguments were the typical ones heard in conservative circles:
- We should be entitled to keep our wealth
- Entitlement programs don't work; only putting money in the hands of business will bring us out of this
- Why should the wealthy be punished for making more money
- Entitlement programs create disincentives for innovation and progress
What surprised me most was the people making the arguments were 20-somethings. People who have likely been exempt from paying taxes for all of their few working years until now. People who have lived under the protective wings of parents for at least 80% of their life. People who may have voted for the first time in this election. Who . . . well, who really haven't lived at all. So I listened to them rant about how all entitlement programs were a waste, and that taxes were evil, blah blah blah. Being the senior person in the room and therefore in the highest income bracket, they turned to me and asked me how I could stomach that the current administration's plan was going to result in more taxes on me.
To be honest, I didn't have the answer they wanted. They wanted me to be up in arms.
But here is my take on things.
- I grew up on entitlement. We ate government cheese. I got free lunch at school. My dad got farm subsidies and all sorts of tax breaks. But it kept him working every day of the year for his whole life. It kept three kids in school. It kept us from taking other entitlements, like welfare and food stamps. It kept my dad paying a mortgage and property taxes and other things to support the system. It kept me from ever wanted to find myself in a situation where my kids had to eat government cheese and free lunch. Seems to have worked just fine.
- I have a sister who is a single mom with two kids - their dad walked out. She's accepted programs to help her with health care costs, and child care costs. Gets the earned income credit. But she's worked every day since he left. Paid taxes. Lives in an apartment, takes care of her family. The entitlements she took kept her from taking more.
- I've made more money every year since I started working. I've paid more taxes every year since I started working. But you know what? I still am pretty well off. Not just relative to the rest of the world - but here, too. I have everything I need, and a ton of things I want. And more.
- I have accepted and believe that there are certain things a society should provide its citizens as a safety net, for when things get really bad. There are true social and economic costs of not having some basic necessities for all of society.
- I have also accepted that some people will take advantage of that safety net and use it as an excuse to not have to find any personal motivation. Its a cost of doing business.
- I have accepted that our government may not (is not) the most efficient at administering the resources behind that safety net.
- The government is only as good as the people behind it. The same people who have to reimburse their state $7,000 for travel their family took on the state dime. The same people who can't accept cabinet nominations because they forgot to pay taxes.
- I also realize that corporate America has not proven itself the most efficient at redistributing the wealth and creating opportunities for people. Enron. Worldcom. Bernie Madoff.
- Trickle down economics didn't work for Reagan. Probably won't work for anyone else.
- Free enterprise is a good theory in a perfectly free market. But the free market is imperfect. Information needed to run a free market is imperfect. People are illogical and emotional. Wal-mart is free enterprise at work - they are more cost-efficient at supply and distribution, which drives small inefficient businesses out of business. We don't like that so much. But we say we love free enterprise.
- We'd love to believe that giving the money to American businesses creates more jobs for Americans. But chances are, it will reward businesses who find a way to be more profitable - not necessarily by creating jobs for Americans, but by shipping jobs to where labor costs are less. So how do you make sure those companies spend their money on American jobs? Government intervention.
Any way you look at it, there is a flaw in every argument. Even mine.
I lived in Germany. Paid German taxes. Which sucked a hundred times worse than mine do right now. And the government services weren't so much better than I can get here. So I live with our imperfection here, because at the end of the day, I am living the American dream. Got my education, I worked my way to where I am, and financially, today, I am better off than every day before today.
Only time will tell if we can pull ourselves out of this economic quicksand. Taxes, no taxes. Entitlements, no entitlements. Government, no government.
All I know is for now, I will pay the taxes my government asks me to pay. And if I decide I don't like it, I have the choice to elect different representation. And I will give our new president and his administration a chance to do their stuff - because no one in the last decade has proven they had a better plan.
Oh, and I might buy an iPod. I'm hoping the next time 20-somethings start ranting about something they don't know anything about and haven't lived enough to experience, and want my opinion . . .
Talk to the ear buds.