Getting what we demand
Throughout the recession we've all kept hearing rosy stories from our elected officials about the possibility of cutting taxes while raising services - or at least, doing one or the other. But all any of us have to do to get a good hard dose of reality is to walk down a suburban street and look at the number of "For Sale" signs posted. Americans aren't stupid: We know the country's in fiscal crisis. It's time for political leaders to drop the sugar-coating, treat their constituents like adults, and to talk to us about real solutions to the problem at hand. But unfortunately, that's not going to happen.
While Americans can handle the painful truth about tax increases and budget cuts, we don't demand it. We allow politicians running for election to control the dialogue about our tax rates and municipal spending rather than setting the agenda ourselves. When we do talk, it's in soundbites, not in objective terms. And we fail to ask tough questions about exactly how and where our money gets spent.
For example: Why do I pay roughly the same personal tax as I would in France, but French people get college educations and health care at very affordable prices, while I have to pay through the nose? Or: what percentage of each of our tax dollars goes to covering federal administrative overhead, and are we comfortable with those rates? Which industries receive the richest federal subsidies, and are these the ones we as a nation should be prioritizing? And why are there so many darn $500-a-night hotels in Washington, D.C., when the richest-paid public servants make less than $200,000 per year? Are we really getting value for the dollar?
Americans are ready, willing, and able to handle bad news, and these past two years have proved it. But to get the country out of the fiscal mess it's in, we need to do more than simply grit our teeth and endure. As average citizens, it's our job to step up as leaders by becoming demanding and well-informed consumers of government: by figuring our how politicians can do better as stewards of our hard-earned money. Because as anyone on a tight budget knows, you've got to both plan and track what you spend - and put your money where it really matters.
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