Throwing Good Money After Bad
By Doug Patton
December 12, 2011
The Los Angeles Times is impressed with the patriotism of Atanacio Garcia. The paper reports that for the last two years, the 84-year-old San Antonio, Texas, veteran and retired postal worker has been sending fifty dollars a month of his pension money to Washington, DC. For what possible purpose? To reduce the national debt.
“I’m a believer in our country,” says Garcia, a father of five who has lived for decades in the same two-bedroom home, and who collects aluminum cans for extra money. He says he intends to contribute “until the debt is paid or until I die.” He also admits that he usually votes Democrat.
Fifty years ago, when America’s national debt was a paltry $300 billion, President John F. Kennedy established a fund to allow Americans to contribute to its reduction. Since then, Kennedy’s successors, Democrats and Republicans alike (although Dems are currently far in the lead in the race to turn America into Greece), have spent so much more of our tax money than they were allotted that most of us can no longer even comprehend the amounts.
As author and columnist Mark Steyn has observed, “Trillion used to be a term used by Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking to describe the distance to far-off galaxies. Now, it’s become a common part of our daily discussions of the federal budget!”
Running such staggering numbers can be instructive, however, once you figure out how many zeros there are in a billion (nine) and a trillion (twelve). Consider this: Mr. Garcia donates $50 per month, or $600 per year, to the fund. At that rate, it would take him 2,500,000,000 years just to pay off this year’s deficit. That’s two billion, five hundred million years! And that would be with no interest added on.
Put another way, it would take Garcia nearly seven million years to pay off what our government will spend today over and above what it takes in.
Of course, the well-intentioned Mr. Garcia is not alone in his desire to help reduce the national debt by sending in his own money. The Times story reports that “hundreds of public-spirited Americans have sent money, from pocket change to million-dollar checks.” The Bureau of Public Debt claims that individual donations over the years have ranged from a single penny to $3.5 million.
Time for some more hard, cold math. Since JFK signed that legislation a half-century ago, $83 million has been collected. Sounds impressive, right? I don’t know about you, but eighty-three million dollars still looks like a lot of money to me. Not in Washington, where our elected officials rack up debt faster than the Obamas rack up vacation miles on Air Force One. When that entire $83 million — so lovingly sent in over the last 50 years by well-meaning little old ladies and patient patriots like Atanacio Garcia — is applied to the debt, it covers approximately 30 minutes of the annual deficit created by this government.
Which brings us around to the hypocrisy of billionaires like Warren Buffett, whose calls for higher taxes on the mega-rich are really just calls for higher taxes on the middle class. Because, you see, there are not enough rich people to make a dent in the national debt. In fact, confiscating every dime 81-year-old Warren Buffett has accumulated over a lifetime of work would fund Barack Obama’s bloated bureaucracy for less than a week! And Buffett knows it. Which is why he won’t write that big check.
My advice to Mr. Garcia and anyone else contemplating throwing good money after bad: give it to your favorite charity. Give it to your church. Give it to a homeless shelter supported by private donations. Give it to your family. Stop giving it to the government. I cannot think of a worse waste of revenue than sending it to the bottomless pit of quicksand that is Washington, DC. You would be better off burning it. That’s what they will do with it.
Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.