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Common Currency: Economy calls for a 'deal or no deal' perspective 'deal or no deal

Alan Zemek

"The Congress shall have power to borrow money on the credit of the United States." -Article I, Section 8-2, Constitution of the United States."

The very first power granted to Congress is the power to tax. The very next power granted to Congress is the power to borrow money. Tax and spend is the essence of government, and we have been arguing about it ever since. We should at least know what we are arguing about.

For example, our public debt is now so incomprehensibly large that it has virtually no meaning other than how you feel about it. Does it make your blood boil about wasteful government spending? Is it a symptom of cultural degradation, a failure of moral restraint and a reason to despair for the future of Western Civilization?

What does $14 trillion in U.S. federal debt mean anyway? It means every man, woman, and child alive in America today owes $47,000 for the privilege of being an American citizen.

This is your personal share. You owe it. You are going to pay it. Your children are going to pay it. And then their children are going to pay it. It is an inescapable truth and fact of life. In the interest of full disclosure we should send out letters addressed to every newborn baby in the country: "Congratulations, and welcome to the party. Here's your bill. You owe us $47,000, so hurry up, grow up, and get to work. Have a nice day!"

Are you depressed yet? Don't be. Why? Because your share of the national debt that you inherited, either by accident of birth, or by choice as an immigrant to this country, is the greatest bargain in the history of all human civilization.

Don't believe me? Let's play "Deal or no Deal?" Just like the popular television show. I will make you an offer and you tell me which suitcase you would like to open.

Suitcase One

You have the option to be born into a mythical sub-Saharan country called Afristan, and come into the world 100 percent debt free.

If you are lucky, you will get three or four years of basic education, after which you will earn a subsistence level income for the rest of your life as a semi-literate farmer or herder.

You might live to the ripe old age of 38, if drought, famine, disease, or war doesn't kill you first. You will live many miles from the nearest paved road, airport, seaport or modern hospital.

Every couple of years or so, the local tribal militia will stop by and steal anything you have managed to accumulate, especially your women and female children. You will die of a preventable disease.

If you are unfortunate enough to be born female, you'll be lucky if you learn to read at all. The male members of your family will decide with whom and when you enter marriage, or they may just sell you off for a profit if circumstances become desperate enough. In any case, you will probably never travel more than a few miles from your place of birth, and you will never own more than you can carry on your back.

Suitcase Two

You have the option to be born into the United States, where you will inherit at your birth personal responsibility for paying off your share of a massive public debt.

You will work your whole life paying it off, and probably never even make a dent in it.

However, in exchange for taking up this lifelong burden, you will receive somewhere between 12 and 18 years of free, or nearly free, education.

You will be vaccinated against a plethora of crippling diseases and deadly viruses.

You will live free from strife and chaos and blissfully take for granted the comforts of modern living.

Flip a switch and the lights will come on. Flush a handle and waste will disappear. Turn a faucet, and clean potable water will flow like magic right into your home.

Extremes of weather that would be life threatening in any other circumstances will be just a minor inconvenience, because your house and place of business is climate controlled. You will always have plenty of food, most likely, too much food.

You will live within a short drive to an airport, where for the small price of a few hours of your labor, you can get on a well-maintained aircraft and travel thousands of miles completely unhindered.

You can arrive in an unfamiliar city with total confidence that you can walk freely down the street as a complete stranger, and have almost no reasonable fear of being molested or accosted, either by the local police or the local riffraff.

So, what's it going to be? Deal, or no deal?

Maybe that massive public debt doesn't seem so bad any more. The fact is that debt is an essential, necessary component of a modern standard of living. Debt is the oxygen that keeps civil society functioning. Choke it off, and schools will close, roads will decay, bridges will collapse, hospitals will fail, and the water you drink will become foul. Life would get decidedly uncomfortable in a relatively short period of time.

So the next time you hear some one say with indignant and righteous fury that the national debt exceeds $14 trillion dollars, as if the sky were falling, your response should be "So what?"

Yes, America is broke, but so what? And what comes after the so what? That is where things start to get really interesting.

Alan J. Zemek is a Park Rapids area developer and author of "Generation Busted: How America Went Broke in the Age of Prosperity." You can follow his blog, or comment on this article on his website, www.genera tion