I feel like he bought my vote (Biden, not Lincoln).
If you’re a middle-class American like me, you’ve probably watched the twists and turns of Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid stimulus package with trepidation. What’s in, what’s out, salary cut-offs, rogue senators, Republican derision, that sort of thing. My family had a lot of money at stake. How much? $5,600. To me, that’s a small fortune.
Recently, I’ve been spending money like I have it: medical procedures, trying to get at the root cause of a year of dizziness; a June vacation planned in Maine, Airbnb lodging deposits for a trip we may not get to take; Eli needed a new bike, the one he bought two years ago now tiny for his adult-sized body. Big expenses, the sort we like to spread out over a year, not cram onto a single credit card bill. The stimulus payment is well timed and very much appreciated.
Here’s my question: do I deserve it? Why is the government giving me money? Susan and I didn’t lose our jobs when the shutdown kicked in. We simply brought our computers home and kept working. And then, realizing that I operated far more efficiently in my office, I just went back to work. All alone in my beautiful building, bundled in a hoodie because we shut off the heat. The government gave us money then too. And our spending plummeted. No where to go shopping. The pandemic wound up as a windfall for my family.
I’m a deficit hawk. It feels strange to write that. I think the popular image of a deficit hawk is an older, wealthy guy pining away for Ronald Reagan’s unfulfilled dream of a tiny government. No spending, no deficits. That’s not me. I’m a tax and spend liberal. I want the government to go big. I want us all to feel some pain paying for it. I want to cut the defense budget in half. I want to balance the budget.
As the inevitability of severe climate change became obvious, I started focusing on the deficit. Prudent families, if they’re able, like to keep some money in the bank for when things go sour. A few years ago, I stupidly found myself into a terrible work situation. It was so awful I became severely depressed. I was barely functioning at home and at work. I went to bed dreading tomorrow. On Friday night my stomach was already in knots about Monday morning. Susan and I agreed the best course of action was for me to quit my job. I could consider that option because we have some savings.
The United States has seen steady growth for the past four decades. Sure, we’ve seen some small recessions (and one big one), some market corrections, a few bumps in the road, but generally, things have been up, up, up. This was our chance to save some money, to put some away for the disaster we knew would come. A couple of years ago, as several Democrats lined up behind the Green New Deal, my thought was: What a great idea. Too bad we’re so deep in debt we can’t pay for it.
The economic savvy readers are itching to comment right now. “Dope, the only reason we saw those boom years is because we went into debt to fund it.” Yes, that’s true. That’s why we now need to live like middle-class families rather than millionaires. This is where the pain comes in. Prudence isn’t fun, it isn’t flashy, often, it’s a drag, but we can’t just keep spending, we don’t have any money.
So, no Green New Deal, but we spent the money anyway. We shored-up the economy instead of creating something new. More money for future generations to repay, if that’s even possible any more. Like an overextended family (or our ex-president), we can’t just file for bankruptcy and start again. The only way out of this mess is to stop giving people like me free money. And for everyone to pay in taxes what they can afford, so long as they feel some pain. With wealthier Americans carrying the bulk of the load.
Some bloggers I read are going to donate their entire stimulus check to charity. With a daughter in college, a son two years from graduating high school, and my own retirement less than a decade away, I can’t in good conscience give this found-money away. I need to make sure we stay solvent, out of debt, and prepared for the austerity I hope finally arrives.