Deadbeat Billionaires

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2015-10-20 – I have a friend who is so right wing that he’s constantly flying around in circles. In spite of drastic improvements in the national deficit over the last few years, he recently posted the standard (and misleading) comparison between national spending and family spending. The comparison lists out “facts” about the U.S. budget and then removes 8 zeros to pretend it is a household budget. Here’s the household budget:

Annual family income: $21,700
Money the family spent: $38,200
New debt on the credit card: $16,500
Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
Total budget cuts so far: $38.50

Sounds irresponsible, doesn’t it. But this is only part of the story. This is the family finances of Linda. She’s the one making the $21,700. Last year, her ex Walter left and served her with divorce papers. The divorce was finalized in December. The year before the divorce, Walter graduated from a prestigious business school and was recruited to work in the Singapore office of a major investment banking firm at a starting salary of $180,000. In the course of the divorce proceedings, it was discovered that Walter had been putting his tuition on Linda’s credit card. The court ordered him to pay that off and provided for him to pay child support. No checks have arrived and there’s little prospect of enforcing the court order with Walter half a world away. Not only is Linda crushed under the debt for Walter’s war (I mean, education), but she is paying a lease and education expenses for their children that were started while they were together. Linda expects it to take several years to dig out of the hole Walter left her in, much less go to school herself so she can afford things for her children and send them to college.

Things are not always what they seem.

To the extent these number have any basis in fact (that is, the numbers with the 8 zeros restored), they reflect the state of the U.S. budget and debt when George Bush handed the reins to Barack Obama. In six and a half years, things have changed significantly. So let’s update Linda’s story.

Linda has been working on reducing her expenses. She’s also been diligent at her job and has gotten a couple of promotions. She now has health insurance, which is a good thing because her son was injured in a high school basketball game and needed orthopedic surgery. The bill could have bankrupted her. Her salary now pretty much covers the family expenses. She’s been seeing a new guy, but last night he asked if she would help him pay tuition for an MBA at a prestigious business school. He says that it would be fine to just put it on her credit card.

What do you think she should do?

* * *

Before I end, I want to recognize that my friend’s story and my revision of it are both metaphors. The real situation is complicated. His story is designed to make you think that the Lindas of the world are irresponsible. My story is designed to make you think that the Walters of the world are worse. The old Republican party was a good balance to the Democrats because Walter stuck around to take care of his family and so their was a good give and take between him and Linda over how best to support their family. With the new Republican party, there’s no give and take and there’s no Walter. It’s all on Linda. And according to them, she’s a very irresponsible person.

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