Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Spending Madness

The Christmas shopping season madness is once again upon us, and once more we find ourselves goaded into spending money that we don't have on cleverly named retail holidays like 'Black Friday', 'Small Business Saturday', and 'Cyber Monday'. Whoever thought that we would some day long for the simpler times of manufactured 'Hallmark Holidays' that only encouraged us to buy a piece of paper or perhaps some flowers for a loved one? 

Even these have morphed over time however, until they have become a out of control Frankenstein monster of spending where only jewelery or automobiles can replace the simple written message of affection that were originally intended. 

When we look dispassionately at the spending frenzy that such clever marketing and advertising have engendered in even the most reasoned of us from a well-intentioned sentiment, it's not impossible to understand what some of our lawmakers go through after being exposed to the current spending culture in the 'logic free zone' of Washington. Even the most cynical of us can recognize that the best "Mr Smith Goes to Washington" intentions can be derailed, and that those in control of the nation's purse strings can lose their common sense and become caught up in the compulsive spending behavior that government has become. 

The problem however is that unlike individuals or families, government never seems to recognize when it makes a bad purchase, feels remorse for spending money it doesn't have, or shows a willingness to change such pitiful behavior going forward. They instead normally seek to follow prior poor spending choices with more and greater ones. Not content with the acquisition of the occasional useless Chia pet, government goes on to expand the program into a Chia farm. (Or is it Chia herd?) 

Unwilling to admit that no matter who makes it, the ab belt (a battery-operated electronic muscle stimulation system to flatten your stomach) will not give you the 'six pack' that they show on commercials, government instead buys each succeeding (and more expensive) model by the truckload and expands the program to provide even more of us something that we don't want and which will never work. 

When was the last time you heard of a government program being de-funded because it wasn't getting the job done? When was the last time that you heard of spending being reduced to a failed effort because of its lack of results? When was the last time that you heard a government legislator or bureaucrat admit that a program that they sponsored or worked for was simply wrong and should be eliminated? (Except of course, when they were suggesting that it should be replaced by a larger and more comprehensive one.) 

No, the government's answer to what we should do about money wasted in a failed efforts seems to be, "let's keep it going to see if it gets better", or worse still, "let's expand the program to see if the results change". Each succeeding legislature, regardless of the political party in charge, seems doomed to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors through a combination of misguided altruism and the belief that the bill never comes due on the government's credit card. 

There is no rhyme or reason to this squandering, only a misplaced belief that forward is the only direction available and that admission of failure is never an option. If there can be said to be a government philosophy about spending in fact, it may in fact be one that can be taken from the Scifi parody film "Galaxy Quest". Congress seems doomed to follow the "Never give up, never surrender" doctrine where its own compulsive consumption is concerned; and while amusing perhaps as movie comedy, it should perhaps be found less so as national policy. 

As the final days of the Christmas shopping season wind down, there's always the hope (though a slim one) that for once we'll get more than we paid for in this holiday shopping season. Perhaps we'll break the cycle of addiction created by the government's shopaholic mentality and fueled by our lingering desires for instant gratification. Perhaps in spite of the cries to fuel the retail engine and jump start the economy, this will be the time that we finally manage to end the spending madness.

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