An alternative to popular faith

A parable about the Fed budget:

We shall call him “Mr. Fed.” He has an unruly daughter named “Taxpay,” whom he wishes to encourage toward goodness, while teaching her basic budgeting. So Mr. Fed tapes two sheets of paper to the refrigerator.

One sheet is titled “Taxpay Savings.” The other sheet is titled “Deficit Scoresheet.” Each day when Taxpay is good, Mr. Fed will draw a checkmark on her Savings sheet, and because he is teaching her double-entry accounting, he also will draw a checkmark on his Deficit Scoresheet.

Taxpay wants these checkmarks, because Mr. Fed will allow her to use them to buy things like staying up late or having friends for a sleepover. She trusts Mr. Fed to exchange these goods and services for checkmarks (In some quarters this trust is known as “full faith and credit.”) Also, if she is bad, Mr. Fed will tax her, so she needs checkmarks to pay any “bad girl” taxes she might incur.

All of the first week, little Taxpay is good, so by the end of the week she has accumulated 7 checkmarks on her Savings sheet. Similarly, Mr. Fed has drawn 7 checkmarks on his Deficit Scoresheet.

The system works so well, Mr. Fed tells Taxpay that from now on, he will give her 2 checkmarks for every day she is good, which of course requires that he also draw 2 checkmarks on his Deficit Scoresheet.

This is no problem for Mr. Fed who has plenty of pencils to draw checkmarks. But it outrages a visiting busybody named “Debthawk,” who asks Taxpay the nonsensical question, “Who is going to give Mr. Fed checkmarks to reduce the number of checkmarks on his Scoresheet?

Puzzled, little Taxpay asks, “Huh? Why does Mr. Fed’s Deficit Scoresheet need to be reduced? It’s just a scoresheet for accounting purposes. The checkmarks don’t cost Mr. Fed anything. They are free, backed by nothing. They merely are arbitrary symbols that Mr. Fed can draw in unlimited quantities. They are exactly like the dollars the federal government produces, now that we are off the gold standard – arbitrary symbols, free and backed by nothing other than full faith and credit.”

Taxpay is pretty smart for a little girl, obviously smarter than Debthawk, who keeps insisting that one day Taxpay’s children and grandchildren will have to give Mr. Fed checkmarks to offset those on the Deficit sheet. Debthawk calls this “inter-generational transfer.”

In short, Debthawk wants a “balanced budget,” aka “deficit neutral” which means every time Mr. Fed gives Taxpay a checkmark, she should give it back. Think about the sense of that.

The first day of the next week, Taxpay is bad, so Mr. Fed taxes her. He erases a checkmark on her Savings sheet, and also erases a checkmark on his Deficit Scoresheet, reducing the Deficit Score to 6 checkmarks. Debthawk is thrilled, failing to notice the reduction on Taxpay’s Savings sheet.

Taxpay then decides to spend all her remaining checkmarks for permission to have a dozen friends at a sleepover. Mr. Fed erases all her Savings checkmarks and simultaneously erases all the checks on his Deficit Scoresheet. At first elated to see the Deficit Scoresheet having no checkmarks, Debthawk belatedly realizes that Taxpay now has no checkmarks left to pay for future goods and services. This puts everyone into a Great Depression, at which time Debthawk says, “I always knew that in emergencies like this one, Mr. Fed would have to add to his Deficit Scoresheet so Taxpay would have checkmarks.” (Of course he did.)

But, the minute Mr. Fed started to give Taxpay more checkmarks, Debthawk again complained about there being too many checkmarks in the Deficit Scoresheet. Poor little Taxpay. Debthawk wants to take away her precious checkmarks, and because his mind is closed, she can’t seem to convince him that is unnecessary.

And that is the way the federal budget really works.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

Faith is belief without evidence. Science is belief from evidence.