If It’s Free, It’s Going to Cost You

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By Rodney Johnson

The Democratic debates are underway, so if you’re a masochist with no hobbies, you now have something to watch at night.

This isn’t a knock on a particular political party. Watching the Democrats today is just as unenlightening and boring as watching the Republican debates in 2016. Moderators ask candidates questions and they fail to answer and go on long screeds about whatever they happen to champion or hate.

We need a new system.

Accountability Please

As with everything else related to politics, there should be a mechanism for accountability. During the debates, which typically include an audience, people should be able to vote after every answer as to whether or not the candidate addressed the question. They get their full time on the next question if they score more than 50%. If they get 25% to 49%, they get two-thirds of their time for the next question. If they drop below 25% on an answer, they only get 40% of the regular time for their next answer.

The extra time won’t be re-distributed to anyone else; it will be removed from the debate, effectively giving it back to us, the viewers, as a thank you for having suffered through the show.

None of this will happen because networks want more airtime and everyone likes to hear themselves talk. And accountability? Please. That’s a four-letter word in Washington that can be summed up as “cost.”

As the candidates walk through their ways to save us from ourselves, you should keep that word in mind. “Cost.” They won’t use it. They’ll use another four-letter word, “free.” When a political candidate uses the word “free,” we should reach for our collective wallets.

And we’ve got a slew of “free” programs to talk about with this group!

Primary Pipe Dreams

Senator Elizabeth Warren has a plan to make college free, and will even erase student loan debt on a sliding scale for everyone with up to $250,000 in income.

Bernie Sanders has a plan to erase all college debt and to make all public two- and four-year colleges free forever.

Most of the contenders have a plan to offer a public health care option, sort of a Medicare-for-All, which will be free to many, while a few want to make it mandatory and get rid of private health insurance. Andrew Yang is promoting a Universal Basic Income, which provides a monthly stipend to every working-age adult in the country, and Marianne Williamson is promoting reparations to the black community for slavery. Among the candidates there are various proposals for family leave and child care.

And then there’s the big one… climate change. The candidates won’t be so bold as to claim that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be free, but they’ll definitely point out that average Americans won’t pay for it.

Which is, as President Harry Truman used to say, a bunch of manure.

When it comes to governments, they spend everything and pay for nothing. Taxpayers foot the bill, one way or another. And when the taxes are levied on businesses, the pain passes through to consumers in the form of higher prices. If we follow the bouncing ball to the end, we find that consumers and taxpayers pay for all social programs, no matter how politicians claim they will spread the cost.

Bearing the Burden

Unfortunately, the taxpayers and consumers are the same people, you and me.

I’m not arguing for or against more social spending. I’m pointing out that any new spending by the government will take money out of our pockets. Those are dollars we could have used supporting our families, planning for retirement, or any other goal of our choice. And once the government starts handing out money for things, it’s really hard to stop.

This notion isn’t lost on investors. It’s why the markets sagged as we limped toward the 2016 elections. The world thought Hillary Clinton would win and ratchet up government taxing and spending. When Trump surprised everyone, the markets exploded.

We’re going down the same road in 2020, but the programs are bigger, which makes the stakes higher. So every time you hear a candidate talk about “free,” or how a new initiative will be paid for by a “small group,” remember that it never works out that way. The burden always comes back to the average American as a taxpayer or a consumer. Is it worth it? That’s something you get to decide in the voting booth next year.


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