We have all heard the news stories about people so morbidly obese that they could not exit their house or apartment. I remember one story of a person who had to be lifted out with a crane after a wall was removed.
These people are addicted to eating, and in some cases, ate incessantly even though they knew that they were jeopardizing their health and eventually, their lives. They grew so large that they were barely able to move and rendered themselves largely useless except as a food-disposal unit.
This reminds me of our federal government, which was once agile and responsive, but now is so large and cumbersome that it has difficulty with the simplest of tasks. In order to sustain this ever-growing monster, it must be fed with ever-larger piles of our tax dollars.
In 2010, statistics available from the Internal Revenue Service demonstrate that individuals earning $69,000 or more, which encompasses much of the middle class and everyone in upper classes, had a combined gross adjusted income of $5.1 trillion. That is an enormous sum of money, and it gives us some idea of the power of the economic engine that this nation possesses. The problem is that the federal budget was $3.5 trillion, which is almost two-thirds of that amount.
We now have a federal debt of $17 trillion, which continues to grow. The current administration proudly points out that it is growing slower now than before. Such a claim makes it clear that they do not appreciate the seriousness of our spending problem. If a balloon is so full of air that is about to burst, it would be far better to begin deflating the balloon than to put just a little more air into it.
It is urgent that we begin to reduce the federal debt rather than just slow its increase. To put all of this into perspective, consider the fact that we would have to tax all of those individuals earning over $69,000 a year at a rate of 64 percent just to balance the federal budget for one year.
This would do nothing to reduce the federal debt. I'm only referring to federal income taxes, of course, but if you add state and local budgets, the proportion needed to cover the expenditures could easily approach 80 percent to 90 percent of income. When you look at these numbers, you don't have to be a financial genius to recognize that this is an unsustainable pattern and must be addressed with logic and common sense rather than ideology.
There are some ideologues who are quite happy with this pattern of taxing and spending because it furthers their goal of income redistribution. Without question, it is a successful tactic to accomplish such a social change. It does not, however, take into account the fact that once the redistribution has occurred, the economic engine has been so damaged that the utopian environment that was sought will be more distant than ever.
In order to halt the progressive rise of our national debt, we need to do one or more of the following:
• Take everything from the middle and upper classes to feed the governmental beast and reduce the debt, at least until such time as there is nothing left to take.
• Reduce the size of government through attrition and trimming of fat in government programs across the board.
• Grow the economy by simplifying the tax code and making it fair, reduce corporate tax rates to reverse the flow of economic activity out of our nation, engage in only obviously necessary regulatory activities, enact wise energy policies and put the appropriate emphasis on relevant education.
Clearly, the first option is antithetical to the founding principles of our nation. Our Founders expected the role of the central government to be quite limited and confined principally to protecting the rights of its citizens to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The fact that four of the five wealthiest counties in the United States surround Washington, D.C., while other parts of the nation are suffering should be a wake-up call to anyone who has slumbered through the massive expansion of our government. For these reasons, the second option is extremely good, but it must be realized that we cannot cut our way to prosperity. Therefore, the third option is by far the best, and I think it could quickly reverse the national direction that most people believe is wrong.
In recent weeks, we have seen more of the national media beginning to question some of the actions of those in control of our government. I hope this trend continues, because the survival of our nation depends on a fair and objective media, who are able to expose the facts upon which the people make decisions.
We must deal with reality and stop trying to fool the people, because these budgetary issues are a big problem for all of us and for our progeny. We need to relearn the meaning of the word "sacrifice," which is often necessary before true prosperity is realized.
Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University.