When is a straitjacket good for the wearer? Officials use straitjackets to prevent people from doing harm to themselves or others. It works. The problem is that is also prevents the person wearing it from taking care of themselves. The same is true for governments. The latitude to act is essential to good government.
A straitjacket is not the only way to maintain discipline. The country has lasted a long time without it and has always responded to crises effectively. Some people like the idea of putting the Government in a straitjacket because they see it as a simple solution to the debt problem. But what are the consequences?
- With a Balanced Budget Amendment the U.S. Government would not have been able to respond to the invasion of Pearl Harbor or the terrorist attacks of 9/11 without gutting the rest of the Government.
- We would not have built the Interstate Highway system.
- People would have to work until they died or end up destitute in poorhouses as was the case prior to Social Security and Medicare. The elderly that had family support would be dragging them down by foisting debilitating costs on them.
- The National Park System would be mostly inaccessible.
- Air pollution would be worse since many hydroelectric generation projects were built on governmental deficit spending. Coal power generation would be much more prevalent than it is now.
- NASA would not exist and we would not have explored the moon.
- The country would be burdened with massive slums where the destitute live with no clean water or sanitation. Slums that engender crime, disease and civil unrest.
This would truly be a different country.
All Republicans like to compare the Government to a business. The fact is that no business prospers without borrowing and investing. Layoffs improve the bottom line temporarily but never lead to growth.
Long term, the budget must be balanced and the debt paid down, but a straitjacket is not the solution. In fact, even without it, the cuts in spending that will likely take effect soon due to the current climate in Congress will be a lot less popular once they actually start to take effect, and people witness the hardships that come with them.