Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
--Daniel Patrick Moynihan

July 23, 2011

Raising My Debt Limit

By David K. Shipler

I have decided to raise my debt limit. After due deliberation, negotiation, posturing, and pandering, it has become clear that most of my needs can be paid for by somebody else so that I can reserve my money for my wants. Needs and wants are very different, although I often get them mixed up.

I need a new driveway to replace the crumbling blacktop. The house could use painting inside. The stove is giving us trouble. The deck has some rot. One of my cars is aging. So is my body. The infrastructure needs attention. Somebody has to pay for it.

One of my grandchildren is on the verge of high school, perilously close to the high-tuition college years. The younger ones will follow. This will cost somebody a lot of money. As a proud American, I enthusiastically endorse the loose talk about preserving the future for our children and grandchildren. It warms my heart to hear everybody from left to right touting the value of education, and at the same time squeezing the funds. That builds character, because education is more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. It is frugality, too, and values.

Poor kids in poor school districts must need help to avoid moral corruption, because they get important lessons in frugality right from the outset. While rich kids in some districts have two of each textbook so they don’t have to carry one back and forth between home and school, many poor schools don’t have enough textbooks to go around. So the poor kids learn to share—a useful skill around the dinner table when they don’t have enough of anything to go around. And the pittance we pay teachers guarantees that they're truly dedicated. People who spend all day with our kids shouldn’t be in it just for the money. But I'm open minded. I'm willing to let somebody else come up with the cash to raise their salaries a little.

This is because education is a need. A sound house is a need. Here’s a bit of simple financial reasoning. If I pay for needs out of my own pocket, I won’t get my wants—my Iphone, Ipad, I, I, I, I. Just think if I could have a huge yacht that gets eight gallons a mile, a private jet with pilot at my bid and command, a house in some subtropical paradise with hot and cold running servants.

So I might as well pay for my wants and borrow for my needs. Fortunately, there’s a guy a couple of towns over whose small children work long hours in his garage making essential things that he sells to me for a big profit, and he’s agreed to lend me back what I pay him for that stuff as long as I don’t complain about his child labor. I could work harder, longer, earn more, save--but why bother?

I can have everything without paying for it: like those folks who bought houses they couldn't afford, then treated them like ATM machines to get cash in equity loans. And like our generous elected representatives, who give us all those great government programs like Social Security and Medicare and new bridges and fancy schools and high-tech wars, but don't dare ask us to pay for them with more more taxes. 

All this sounds like a great arrangement, so I think I’ll raise my debt limit.


  1. Haha. Yes, thank god for our oh so generous elected representatives. What ever would we do with out them?
    David K. Shipler, your books are fantastic, I adore your blog, and I think you're awesome. I know that with the New debt ceiling deal it seems that our nation is slipping deeper and deeper into private companies pockets, and farther away from anything close to equal. But! People are going to wake up, people are going to realize that they've been cheated, and eventually, the poor will demand their fair share. I am young, I don't know a whole lot about anything, yet, but I am passionate about equality. I just want to thank you for being so passionate yourself, for being an advocate and for caring.

  2. Elyse, many thanks for your kind words about my work. I hope you're right about people waking up and making demands. Do you see any signs of that happening? I have the impression that a sense of helplessness prevails, that there is more and more alienation from the political system, and that the recent spectacle in Congress over the debt limit has just deepened the cynicism. In our system, the best way to make change is to get out and vote, yet the turnout is lowest among the low-income--those most in need of government help. Maybe you can help on this point in 2012.

  3. Sadly, I have not seen much hope for our current political system. In my opinion our problems derive from our economic system, capitalism. I believe in a world where the basic resources required for life are held at ransom for money, that we will never have true equality for the poor. It seems apparent to me that the current bipartisan system is broken, and also that the 2.7 trillion dollar's is just a down payment for further cuts in spending, as our credit rating was still lowered by S&P.I believe that if there is any hope for the future of this world, that it lays in the education of the working class. The only hope I truly have to offer you is that I am 18, and that I care about equality.