If you were to try and visit the Statue of Liberty, the Washington memorial, or countless other bastions of American culture, you would be met with “sorry, closed due to government shutdown.” These are the markers of a political deadlock in Washington D.C., resulting from Congress being unable to agree on a budget. On October 1st, 800,000 government employees who were not considered part of the essential operations of the nation were given an unpaid mandatory vacation. National Parks, government offices, immigration officers, and countless other agencies will be affected by the lack of funding. There are thousands of news stories about the recent government shutdown. Most of the articles on the story blame either the Republicans or the Democrats, but few address the real issue: debt. It’s as though the U.S. government has been maxing out one credit card, and instead of paying it off, applying for another. How long can this last? The financial reality south of the border is not good: the U.S. owes almost $17,000,000,000,000. That equals more than $50,000 per U.S. citizen in government debt.
This “shutdown” is not the first of its kind. A pre-scandal President Clinton was also faced with a Congress that didn’t agree with him. The seeds of this present crisis, however, have been sown for almost a century, when the U.S. government began running larger deficits. In fact, there have been only twelve years since 1940 that the U.S. government has not run a deficit.
The attitude of spending beyond one’s means is an unfortunate reality in Western culture and governments are no exception. When we want something, we don’t ask if we can pay for it, but rather, how. Although the Government of Canada is in a slightly better financial position than the U.S., it doesn’t mean that Canadians won’t be affected. Both governement and consumer debt in Canada is growing. Also, the close trade relationship Canada has with the U.S. means that anything that affects the U.S. economy will adversely affect Canada’s. The prospects for a prosperous future are being pushed further and further away.
In time, the politicians in Washington will undoubtedly find a solution, and those 800,000 government workers who are struggling without income will be restored to their positions. But the problem will likely remain. Debt continues to grow and the consequences will eventually catch up with us. Maybe it’s time for Washington to start looking for a long-term solution, instead of applying for another credit card.