Quackery and federal budget

Published 11:08am Thursday, March 3, 2011

Taking on the federal budget, taxes and politics may be a form of quackery in itself, but I’ll have to accept that responsibility with the territory of writing this monthly column.

I got a surprising amount of feedback from the first “Quackery” column; mostly positive. However, some were, to put it simply, “quack, quack, quack.” People do not let go of their quackery easily, especially when it is shrouded in their belief systems.

That’s why this month’s subject is likely to challenge your belief systems. It might make you quack a lot, but don’t feel lonely if you do. We’re all right there with you.

Some of you may be able to relate to the concept of “bankruptcy” and how organizations function and operate when they find themselves in this position.

I have been in the fortunate position (because of the lessons learned) of running a manufacturing business that was essentially bankrupt for four years (not the only time I’ve experienced this situation).

Decision-making and prioritization are profoundly affected by the realities of an organization that finds itself in bankruptcy.

Most people who haven’t lived this reality think that it’s all about cutting costs, but it is much more than that.

The real reason you work so hard to cut unnecessary costs is so that you can invest in product development, sales and marketing. No matter what the “quacks” say, you can’t “cut” your way to prosperity.

Your purpose in the bankruptcy mode is to save the business and create a sustainable platform for a successful future. You must get to the point where you can sustain investment or your competitors will take you out.

Governance is similar to running a bankrupt company, except that it is a permanent condition.

In a global economy, governments must compete with one another to protect the economic interests of their citizens. The U.S. economy is “the” target of every country in the world as well as many of our own corporations. The welfare and quality of life for middle-class America is under constant attack.

American businesses cannot hope to successfully compete without a responsive and visionary government. But we are saddled with right-wing and left-wing ideologists whose concepts on governance, to put it succinctly, are – quack, quack, quack.

Both have sold out the middle class while supporting entitlements to the wealthy and the proverbial “safety net” professionals. If we continue to govern like we have since the 80s, middle-class America will continue to lose. A cut, cut and cut mentality without an effective plan and effort to invest will continue to be a formula for disaster just like it is for a bankrupt company.

Being a city volunteer, councilman and mayor for a period of more than 20 years teaches you the subtle and not so subtle lessons of poor governance.

When I began that adventure, the city was in poor financial condition and had a history of default that began in the 1960s.

Even worse, no investments in the future were being made. The infrastructure was crumbling and deterioration hindered business investment and growth.

The entire focus was on decreasing taxes or fees, not on investing in the future.

Fortunately, there were enough people in the community with vision willing to endure a period of painful investment.

Unfortunately, not all the people were able to let loose of their quackery. The price of a better future was more taxes and fees in certain areas. It was done prudently, deliberately and slowly through consensus.

So, where is the quackery in the federal budget process?

The quackery is in the sudden “we got to balance the budget now” mentality as well as the insane “shut the government down” nonsense.

The idea that social security, Medicare and Medicaid are the cause of the “crisis” is just more “quackery” from the “wing nuts.” The “budget crisis” is the result of 30 years of a weakening economy caused by a lack of investment in our economic infrastructure and tax policies that were and are anti-middle class (quack, quack, quack). It manifested itself in a big way during the great recession.

The deficit is large but a growing and healthy economy will reduce it faster than cost cutting ever could. Some taxes will have to increase regardless of the howling from those at both ends of the economic spectrum (spoiled by their “entitlements”).

However, cutting ineffective program expenditures is also needed so that we can afford to invest money in effective programs. A simple benefit-cost analysis combined with vision and intelligence would go far towards targeting the appropriate changes. Unfortunately, we have to pay for decades of poor governance and the investment will be painful.

After all, we are in the middle of a worldwide economic war. Being we are in this war it seems to me that knee-jerk political opportunism (quack! quack! quack!) should be punished, not rewarded.

Rodney Gibson is the former mayor of Saluda.

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