Issue March 2, 2011

Getting serious about national debt

With a federal debt of $14 trillion and annual deficits running nearly $1.5 trillion, the United States must take swift austerity measures or risk losing its No. 1 NCAA ranking. Fortunately, no matter where we fall on the political divide, most Americans agree on one fundamental economic principle: Locally raised hot wings go really well with organic beer.

But Americans are also waking up to the fact that the federal budget deficit is something somebody should eventually do something about, just as long as we don’t raise taxes or cut spending. President Obama recently proposed a $3.7 trillion budget that would cut the deficit by $1.1 trillion over 10 years but would not guarantee a nation capable of finding the Eastern Hemisphere on a map. Meanwhile, the GOP-dominated House proposed a different budget, one that would eliminate $60 billion immediately but still fail to achieve a permanent ban on former congressmen dancing with the stars.

To help make sense of the issues, The Summary of My Discontent Center for Responsible Cynicism brought together some of our nation’s finest economic drinkers to explore ways to eliminate the national deficit. The following recommendations would balance the budget while still maintaining an economy capable of dominating the erectile-dysfunction marketplace.

Obviously, to eliminate the deficit, some tough choices will have to be made. Cutting military spending is not one of them. After thoroughly analyzing the $526 billion military budget, the center’s economists fell into the fetal position and began sucking their thumbs until new, more jaded economists could be brought in. Rather than micromanaging the Pentagon to cut F-35 fighter jets or laser-guided colon scopes, the center recommends entirely eliminating the Department of Defense and replacing it with a Department of Joy “until such time as The Sermon on the Mount proves untenable and/or China gives us the stink-eye.”

The center further recommends raising the retirement age to 70, which would not only return Social Security to solvency but also give Grandpa something to do besides watching Archie Bunker reruns and shouting “Meathead is a goddamn socialist” at the toaster.

Of course, spending cuts alone will not solve our fiscal woes. In order to restore sanity to the budget, we’re going to have to eliminate government waste. To increase productivity, the center’s deficit-busters recommend a new social networking rule: Subpoena Facebook’s logs, cross-reference them with government workers, and fire everybody who spends all day jabbering online.

By eliminating the military, raising the retirement age and cutting government waste, we’re well on our way to fiscal responsibility. But even with those savings, we’re going to need more revenue. Unfortunately that means raising taxes, an unpopular move among the rich people who control our minds and trick us into yearning to be like them. Instead, we must levy a tax that would distribute the sacrifice equitably. We can achieve this by taxing a commodity every American — rich or poor, left or right — can choose whether or not to consume: fear.

History shows that despite being deliciously thrilling, fear is the No. 1 cause of irrational voting, which leads to greasy and/or horny politicians, which lead to out-of-balance budgets, which lead to sketchy democracy. A “fear tax” would raise revenue while also reducing fear consumption, which would pay off huge dividends in emergency rooms, pharmacies, liquor stores and battlefields.

The fear tax would work like this: Any business that derives 90 percent or more of its revenue from fear would be taxed at a rate of 98 percent of gross receipts. The fear tax would apply to our most prominent purveyors of fear, including local TV news, the pharmaceutical industry, insurance companies, Fox News, Stephen King, MSNBC, “Law & Order SVU,” Rush Limbaugh, Michael Pollan, Insane Clown Posse, Rupert Murdoch, The New York Times, Al Gore, Wes Craven and all world religions other than Buddhism, to name a few. We could still enjoy the sweet nectar of fear; we’d just have to pay extra for the privilege.

By adopting the center’s recommendations, the U.S. would not only balance the budget but also increase funding for Medicare, education, the environment and transportation. And if that doesn’t stimulate the economy, we could always eat our locally raised rich. With enough wing sauce, they’d probably taste good with organic beer.