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I read an interesting commentary today about the commonly used political metaphor of the national budget as a household budget. This metaphor is cast about as a justification for the notion of a balanced budget for Federal government spending.  Now, most of us like to think we have a balanced budget at home, so that seems reasonable.  Sure, your monthly income should be less-than-or-equal-to the amount of money that goes out each month.  But do you pay a mortgage?  A car payment? Student loan? Credit card debt?  Those payments get covered by monthly income (hopefully).  But they are debts.  And, some would say, they are investments. A mortgage is certainly an investment. Credit card debt, or a home equity loan, to fix the roof or other major home repairs are certainly investments. Student loan?  Definite investment in your future, right?

So what counts as an investment for the federal government? Infrastructure comes to mind immediately; roads, bridges, levies, reservoirs, and so on.  Usually, the Feds match local money for this sort of thing so the projects are managed locally by the people who will use the resource.  All citizens benefit from these investments when they are properly vetted at all levels. Roads and bridges will allow people to transport goods and provide services, thus generating taxable income.  The investment gets paid back over time.

A bridge, probably funded in part by Federal money, crossing a reservoir--also probably funded in part by Federal money.--

A bridge, probably funded in part by Federal money, crossing a reservoir–also probably funded in part by Federal money.–

A standing military is considered by many an investment in our safety and security. As the daughter of a 30-year Navy veteran, I know there is waste in the military budget.  But it still strikes me that some military spending is necessary.  And wars cost a great big pile of money. Try googling cost of Iraq War and see if your eyes don’t bulge.  Most of us limit our safety and security budget at home to doors, locks, windows and maybe a home security system.  Unless you live in a fortress, the household budget metaphor falls apart here.

The federal government spends a fair amount of money on education.  Personally, I don’t think it’s enough, but that’s not the point here.  The point is, education is an investment in the future, for individuals and nations.  Why do some countries thrive and achieve greater growth and prosperity than other countries?  Usually, the simple answer is investment in education.  The Chinese and Indian governments have seen the wisdom of this strategy and have you seen their GDP lately? And education must not be only for the wealthy who can afford private education; most of the great individuals we look to as examples in our history came from humble roots. If we don’t provide a good education to every child, we might miss genius. And we will surely fall behind many other countries in the developed and rapidly developing world in terms of GDP, innovation and standard of living.

Do you give some money to charities each month? Maybe to feed or clothe others less fortunate than yourself?  Many Americans do on an individual basis.  Personally, I don’t have a problem with that happening on the larger, collective scale because we have so much.  There are many people, for reasons which might be beyond their control, who need a little help. Personally, my marriage ended while the economy was in the tank and I relied on EBT (f.k.a. “Food Stamps”) for almost five years.  I don’t believe that people should have to be homeless in America. I certainly don’t believe that any child in American should go to school, or bed, hungry.  Ever. Each child is another chance for greatness, genius and innovation.  But they won’t get there if they’re hungry.

The argument that people should pull themselves up by their boot straps assumes they received the same education, nutrition and opportunities as the person making the argument. Until that playing field is level for every child, there will be some who need a little help.  I consider that help an investment. It will no doubt save money which will not need to be spent on prisons, law enforcement and medical care. It will generate taxes. People who argue otherwise are probably already wealthy and send their kids to private school.

So, should  the federal budget be balanced like household budgets?  Sure! As long as it means the real budgets of real Americans who invest in their futures wisely. Budgets that include charitable giving to level the playing field. I’ll agree to no more expensive meals on my credit card if the federal government agrees to no more Bridges to Nowhere.  That seems reasonable. But that “Balanced Budget” agenda?  That’s a way to say, “austerity” without raising suspicions. Don’t be fooled.