Don’t you think it’s time our government went to unit pricing?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I’m not kidding. You know how the grocery stores show you how much an item costs, but then gives you the price per ounce? It’s called “unit pricing.”

Round numbers, there are approximately 312 million Americans. Our national debt is just under $16 trillion. The simple math is that, on a per capita basis, we’ve each borrowed $51,282 to fund our national debt. How many people in your family? Just the three of you? Okay, 3 times $51,282 is $153,846. That’s your family’s share of the national debt.

Given that we’re forever deficit spending, every new program is funded with new debt. (We’re even borrowing money to pay the interest on the debt we already owe.) Every $1 billion our government spends over and above the tax revenues it collects, costs each of us $3.21 or $9.63 per family of three, plus interest. Just $9.63? Who gives a …?

Well, over the past seven years since hurricane Katrina, we’ve all spent $14 billion improving the levy system that protects New Orleans. That’s $134.82 for our typical family of three, $44.92 per person.

To date, the war in Afghanistan has cost us $560.7 billion, not including the immeasurable value of the human impact of lives lost, injured and interrupted on all sides. $560.7 billion is $1,797 per American, $5,391 for our family of three. Plus another $860.5 billion for our military action in Iraq. That’s another $8,374 for the three of you, or $2,758 per person. Add the two together, over the last decade or so, each and every one of us has borrowed and spent $4,555 to finance our fighting, and dying, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Each of us, individually, babies and octogenarians too, borrowed $555 to raise the $173 billion we loaned to American International Group because our government thought AIG was “too big to fail.”

“Why do we care? I mean, we’re not personally borrowing this money. This is government, not personal debt we’re talking about.” …Really? Just who do you think is going to pay off our government debt, or the interest on it until we do? That’s right. You are.

And so, in this age of the Internet and wall-to-wall cable news, and tens of millions of people voting for the next American Idol, I think we need to take citizen participation in politics – the ultimate reality TV game – to the next level. I think it’s time for “Government Unit Pricing.”

The next time the President or Congress asks us to spend billions of dollars on something, whether it be heath care, a pipeline, military action or bailing out some Wall Street firm, whatever, I think they need to tell us how much each of us is going to have to borrow to fund that program. That way, you can figure out how much it’s going to cost your family, and whether or not you think it’s worth the investment.

“Never going to happen.” You know, you’re probably right, because the personal cost of deficit spending, of reckless, fiscally irresponsible borrowing, is not something our elected officials want us thinking about. I mean, what do we know? They’re our elected representatives. We’re just the people who voted for them.

-Next Contestant

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