Fiscal Discipline

I am, as my friends, family and girlfriend can tell you, kind of cheap. Not super-cheap, not inhibiting-my-social-interactions cheap, just I-live-in-New-York-go-to-grad-school-and-work-at-a-non-profit cheap. You know what I’m avoiding saying right now, don’t you? Because in fact, I think this impulse might be in my blood; although I grew up in very comfortable circumstances, my mother is a compulsive coupon clipper, a woman who takes the leftover bread in the basket home with whatever anyone didn’t finish when we eat out, a woman who taught me to think it was totally normal to buy bras pulled from huge cardboard boxes six feet up tiny little hallways on the Lower East Side. I was aware of both the stereotype and the fact of over-privileged Jewish women with lots of cash (though I was to learn more later on in life), but to me, the relationship of my primary Jewish female role model to money was more about thrift than anything else. That, too, of course, comes out of a particular historical situation, and I could go on for a very long time, but let’s just say you should go read some Joyce Antler and leave it at that.

So fast-forward to my current far-left view of the world and, most obsessively, of my national government. I can see why there might be some conflict between an ethos of personal thrift and thinking that the government should spend a lot of money—goodness knows it has been pointed out to me. But I would like to clear the record on something here: I and many of my fellow lefties don’t want to see profligate spending towards no end. We don’t want the government to flush money down the toilet bowl (or for to renovate the toilet bowl, either); we do think that society that shells out cash for those who need it can be a more just society, although God knows where we got that idea. So, sometimes cash needs to be spent and, yeah, sometimes it can get to be a lot of cash. But, the same way I was sat firmly down and taught how to keep a checkbook, there needs to be some sense of accountability for how money is spent, and we need to spend it in the most productive way.

According to people way, way smarter than I, it turns out that tax cuts are not a good way to spend government money. This would be less of a problem if a) we hadn’t just spent about 40% of a huge-ass stimulus bill on them and b) they didn’t cost the government the same as all of our national defense. Yeah. Of course, I also just learned that for years, the wars we’ve been fighting haven’t been on the national budget. Instead, we’ve had a series of “Emergency Supplemental” appropriation bills, which let us pay a whole lot for things without having them show up on the budget, which strikes me as a liiiiiiiiiiiittle bit disingenuous. Kind of like doing a monthly budget and forgetting to include, I don’t know, your rent, and then mooching cash off of your family, friends and roommates when the bill-paying time of the month rolls around. As my personal hero likes to call it, “bullpuckey.”

But, fear no more, because at the same time that this new administration is spending loads of your cash on roads and tax cuts alike, they’re at least going to be honest about how much they’re spending. Calling the budget process in recent years an “exercise in deception,” President Obama has promised to spend lots of your money to try to keep the bottom from falling out of the economy, to be transparent about the actual cost of the two wars (remember them?) that we’re fighting, and to cut the deficit in half within four years. I have no idea how the heck that’s going to happen, but I would like to assure you, Mr. President, that my mom is ready by the phone if you ever want her two cents. I recommend her; you’ll just have to note those two cents down.

–Mel Weiss

3 comments on “Fiscal Discipline

  1. jacqueline Weinfuss on

    As always, I am always thrilled to see you in “print.” Writing from the profligate side of the family, I am always eager to spend in truly egalitarian causes, even those that are not always equal, but to help someone who truly needs help, and do good for someone who needs a hand. Sometimes, how shocking, they don’t agree with me politically, but still need help. Please, not Rachel Maddox – she “makes those faces” as your great grandmother Rose would say. Perhaps someone kinder, gentler, and more tolerant of other points of view? We don’t have to agree, but surely, we should listen, and listen kindly…? In such a divisive world, we surely need to see things not as right and left, but with room in the middle we can agree on.
    Someone I love used to say “No Laughing!” They then made the most engaging face, but then laughed with you.

    Much Love,


  2. admin on

    Hi, Jacquie.

    Thanks for leaving your thoughts. It’s always great to hear that people are willing to donate willingly to good causes and to people who need help–Maimonides knew that giving cheerfully was an improvement on other kinds of giving. I think my point in the post, perhaps unclear, was that I believe that it falls on society as a whole, structurally and institutionally, rather than on individuals alone, to commit to the kind of social safety net I think we need. I get these ideas from my Jewish, feminist and Jewish-feminist backgrounds; I think they’re limned quite clearly in the Tanakh and Talmud both.

    Nobody need agree with my personal adoration for Ms. Maddow, though I’d like to point out that I am indeed picking up listening tips from her–I wish all political journalists, let alone people on the street, were as respectful in letting others speak their minds, and as honest as to their own biases. While surely people of all points of view ought to commit to open and courteous dialogue, I don’t want to pretend that we can or should homogenize our views into some centrist position. There’s nothing wrong with claiming a side, provided that claim doesn’t blind you to other ideas, and, in my ideal world, provided you’ve done more than cursory research into the ideas you hold. After struggling for a long time with the moral validity of holding a strong political position, I’ve decided that for the sake of integrity, there are times when people must say, this I believe is right–and that wrong. But I hope that there are always people with whom I can debate and discuss where those lines fall, and I pray always for the ability to have those conversations with an open mind.

    Thanks again for dropping by the blog!

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