We’re going to need to spend a lot more money soon. Infrastructure is crumbling, the population is aging and schools are already under-funded in many areas. We need to spend more on transportation for the increasing number of seniors (as well as people who have chosen not to drive). Not to mention subsidized housing. The 76 million baby boomers are getting old quickly; 10,000 of them turn 65 each day.
These financial pressures will only worsen with the passing of the years. Already, a number of cities have declared bankruptcy, and judges have held that when they do, pensions can be cut. Courts examine what a city must provide (police, fire, maintenance of roads, etc.) and balance that against paying retirees benefits promised years ago and decide to allow cuts for the few so the many won’t have to suffer as much.
States and the federal government are catching up slowly. Within a few years, we’re likely to see a state or two reach a similar fiscal crisis. Continued pressure to cut or at least not raise taxes, combined with the need to create new ways to assist our aging population, will result in pressures that cannot be sustained without either cutting spending or increasing revenue.
And it’s not just the increasing age of the population. There’s also the fact that more people are moving into urban areas than away from them. As growth occurs, more revenue becomes available (theoretically); however, we’ve also seen downward pressure on wages – more part-time jobs and poorer-paying jobs than once existed, and even people moving in with friends or relatives because they can’t find work.
That results in a higher burden with respect to something like transportation. If people are poorer relatively speaking, the ownership of personal vehicles will drop as well. Folks will rely on public transportation, which means more buses and rail projects.
It also means greater pressure on water and sewer systems, many of which, particularly on the east and west coasts, are relatively old. Or power transmission capacity, which likewise faces increasing obsolescence and deterioration.
And I haven’t even mentioned health care. One of the highest growth populations is people over 85 – people who need a disproportionate amount of medical resources compared to the rest of the population.
These are all issues we have to face sooner or later. The politicians don’t want to talk about it, for the most part. They prefer to discuss sexier topics that yield higher emotional responses than fiscal responsibility. But we can’t ignore these problems forever.
Someday soon, we’re going to have to stop governing with only short-term solutions. Our habit of waiting for crises to occur before addressing problems will lead us to a situation where government does nothing but address catastrophes. The idea of being proactive and mitigating our damages to preserve our fiscal stability will be but a dream.
Our leaders will have no time to discuss anything but tragedies. Maybe that’s inevitable. After all, we didn’t evolve as long-term thinkers. But I have to think we can make things a lot easier for ourselves if we just stop governing for today. I don’t even blame politicians for this mindset. We force them into it by voting for those who promise to fix everything without having to pay for it.
They say they can find all the money we need by eliminating waste. But one person’s waste is another person’s livelihood. Every cut is fought bitterly. Both democrats and republicans want to spend every extra penny government receives (for republicans, the spending comes in the form of tax cuts). Long-term planning is a recipe for getting voted out of office. Until we change that, we’re going to be stuck with leaders who have no choice but to devote their time to crises of our own making.
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