It is time once again to drop in on Red and Fred, those self-perceived sages of wisdom on all things having to do with economic and community development. They are sitting in the booth at the local diner. This time they are discussing the state of the national economy and how it will affect their town.
RED: Well, they have gone and done it now. Not only have those fools in Washington spent all the money we had, they have spent all we are ever going to have. No wonder we’re seeing an uprising at the polls. I’ll bet the mayor is starting to squirm now.
FRED: Why is that?
RED: Don’t you remember? The town was broke five years ago. We couldn’t repair the water and sewer lines, we couldn’t repave the roads and we couldn’t hire any new police officers. Mr. “Elect me and I can get Washington money” promised he was going to solve all our problems.
FRED: He’s done a pretty good job so far. He got a lot of grants to do those things that you are talking about. The town is better because of him, wouldn’t you agree?
RED: Yeah, I guess so. Pass me some of that sugar, would you?
FRED: So you think the money is going to run out?
RED: Run out? Man, the money ran out a long time ago. Didn’t you hear what that lady economist from the university told the civic club in her speech, last week? She said that the national debt is now over thirteen trillion dollars, and that since September of 2007 we have spent an average of over four billion dollars a day. She said we could look it up on the national debt clock on the Internet. And then there’s Afghanistan. Two billion a week on that while our unemployment rate is out of sight. She predicts that local communities are going to change drastically in the next 10 years because the grant money is going to stop coming, and that the towns that can’t provide for themselves are going to dry up. She’s right too. We have become too dependent on government money. Our town is going to be one of the first to go.
FRED: Because we have gotten a lot of government grants?
RED: Exactly. Those days are over. Don’t you read the papers?
FRED: Every day.
RED: I got you on that one. All I see in your driveway now is that little local county newspaper that comes every Thursday. You used to get the daily paper and the Wall Street Journal. And you have even been caught reading the New York Times. Don’t deny it.
FRED: I confess. But I still read all those newspapers. I read them on my computer. Don’t you remember? One of the grants that the mayor got was free Wi-Fi for the town? Now I just read everything on my computer.
RED: What is a Wi-Fi?
FRED: It’s a wireless way to connect to the Internet. Don’t you remember? They installed the system downtown about a year ago. Think of it as a kind of radio antenna, but one where the signal goes both ways. It’s been a good thing for our town.
RED: You lost me. One of these days I’m going to get me a computer. NO! What am I saying? I like things just like they are.
FRED: Things are changing. Even in our little town.
RED: So how much do you have to pay to read all those newspapers on your computer from the Wi-Fi that the taxpayers provided for you?
FRED: Nothing. They are free.
RED: Now how is that? (Server pours more coffee.) Thank you, m’am.
FRED: There are advertisements, just like a regular paper.
RED: You know what really worries me?
FRED: What’s that?
RED: When the federal and state dollars quit coming — and they will — people in our town are going to be in trouble because they have forgotten how to take care of themselves. Always looking outside. I tell you, we have become too dependent and have forgotten how to do it ourselves. And what about that earmark spending? Billions for pet projects. It’s just a way to keep us dependent. We’re addicted to federal money, I tell you. You would agree that this town could not survive on its own, wouldn’t you?
FRED: I disagree. It would survive, but it would just be different. But don’t worry, Red, because those federal and state dollars are going to keep coming.
RED: Bull — you know what! (Sips his coffee) Pray tell how that is going to happen.
FRED: What that economist did not say was that earmark spending, which is where quite a few of those local grants come from, is less than one percent of the federal budget. Yes, I know that it is over $16 billion, but they see it as less than one percent. You see, it is one of the better ways that members of Congress can point to and say that they are taking care of the people back home. And people like you can whine all you want about spending and taxed enough already, but you still like the money. There are also other ways Congress funnels money to their states and to their supporters. And that is not going to change no matter how deep in debt the country goes because that is what gets them re-elected. And might I add that you have been voting for them.
RED: We’ve all gotten ourselves in a mess then.
FRED: I agree with you for sure on that point.
RED: Maybe the mayor does deserve another term.
Phil Hardwick is coordinator of capacity development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.