Philip Greenspun has become a right-wing celebrity by dividing the US debt by one hundred million and pretending that it is a single family:
We have a family that is spending $38,200 per year. The family’s income is $21,700 per year. The family adds $16,500 in credit card debt every year in order to pay its bills. After a long and difficult debate among family members, keeping in mind that it was not going to be possible to borrow $16,500 every year forever, the parents and children agreed that a $380/year premium cable subscription could be terminated. So now the family will have to borrow only $16,120 per year.
Sounds bad, hey? What terrible family would get so far into debt? (except, of course, the mortgage). And why such a tiny cut in the budget? That stupid family is still so badly in debt!
I could make a comment to the effect that the government budget has to be counter-cyclical, so a debt during high unemployment is sensible and should be countered by a surplus during low unemployment, but remember we have to pretend it is a family. So maybe I could just put some more detail into this family?
John and Joanne Public live in a modest house with John's retired (and widowed) mother Josephine and two girls, Jill (aged four) and Jessica (aged eight). All up, the household spends $38,200 every year. Of this, $8,786 is spent on health care for Josephine (she had a stroke and requires a lot of care) and Jill (little Jill has juvenile diabetes). $7640 is put away in a savings account for those months when John or Joanne can't find work (they are both freelancers). $4584 is spent on mandatory bills, such as council rates for collecting the rubbish. $2292 is spent paying back some loans that John and Joanne made six years ago for a (miserable) holiday they took to Iraq. $6358 is spent every year on "discretionary" items, such as groceries and school fees for Jessica. All up, the family is living on a tight budget, except for the gold-plated security system paranoid John insisted on installing, at $8540.
Ten years ago, the Public family were managing to get by okay, since John and Joanne between them earned slightly more than $38,200 a year (adjusted for inflation). Then John decided to go part time, voluntarily giving up a large chunk of his income, so that now the family only earns $21,700. Of course, now they have a major problem, since the family is adding $16,500 in credit card debt each and every year. What was once a happy marriage has fallen apart, starting with bitter arguments that have now descended into domestic violence. Joanne insists that John needs to go back to work, so that the family can pay all its bills. The problem is, John likes being part time and refuses to go back full time. Instead, he wants to stop paying for Jessica's education ($400), and Josephine and Jill's medical bills ($8,786). Even though that would still leave them in debt, John refuses to cut back on his paying for the private security guard he just hired for the house.
So now that we have put everything in perspective, should the family take the advice of long-suffering Joanne, the Democrat, or abusive John, the Republican?