By the time you read this we may have reached an agreement on extending the debt ceiling, or maybe not.  This whole debt ceiling issue where Congress votes to increase an already higher number to another much higher number is a recent phenomenon.  When I was growing up, the news media focused on the Viet Nam War and civil rights and communism’s threat to the world.  Debt ceilings were not something we as a nation were dealing with.

It wasn’t that we weren’t spending beyond our means, that has been a continual problem in our Republic since its inception.  Only during Andrew Jackson’s presidency were we out of debt as a nation and then only for a short time.

It wasn’t until recent times that we’ve had to decide whether we should keep raising how much we borrow every couple of years. Not only are we living beyond our means as a nation, but we are doing so with almost complete abandon.

On a recent State Farm Bureau Presidents video meeting, Representative Jodey Arrington, who serves as the Chair of the House Budget Committee, updated us about the current budget negotiations.  Chairman Arrington talked about the Limit, Save, Grow Act that laid out a process to reduce our stifling federal debt and try to bring some sanity back to Washington, D.C. when it comes to our fiscal house.

Current negotiations (at the time of this writing mid-May) are between the President, who wants Congress to just pass a debt ceiling increase without any strings attached, and the House who wants to use this process to try and address our spending problem.  The Act seeks to address the spending problem by limiting the amount of deficit spending, something most of us would conclude was reasonable, while at the same time encouraging the economy to grow by at least a modest 2 percent.  While limiting spending and allowing the economy to grow we can narrow the income-outgo gap to a more reasonable amount.  Another aspect of this proposal would provide incentives for people to seek work.  The number of non-employed Americans should be something of concern to all politicians.

I recently watched an interview of Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt (American Enterprise Institute) by former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson (Australia) about his book “Men Without Work”.  Dr. Eberstadt dug into information which isn’t reported by government unemployment figures. He foundthere are approximately seven million men who are not accounted for when analyzing unemployment figures.  These are men who have basically stopped working and more importantly stopped looking for work.

These are statistics which the Department of Labor apparently doesn’t collect, so Dr. Eberstadt had to gather the information from other sources.  What he writes about is troubling.  For instance, of those seven million men (he didn’t look at women) there are about one million who have returned to school to further their education. We would presume they would then enter the work force when they have earned their degree or gained the knowledge they sought.  That leaves six million men who are not employed nor are they furthering their education.  In looking at the remaining six million men, he sought out information about what they might possibly be doing with their time.  The result was also troubling.  They characterized the time they spent as “screen time.”  Or in other words video gaming or other such pursuits.

How can this be possible?  Well apparently, we have a good enough system of support that six million men can avoid anything productive and still live, although not comfortably as he points out, well enough to continue doing what they want to do.  The information Dr. Eberstadt collected showed these individuals don’t even volunteer for community service type programs.  They aren’t volunteering to help out others through a church or other group, they aren’t serving as little league coaches, they aren’t doing anything remotely productive.

This perhaps explains that while government figures show low unemployment numbers we see help wanted signs in businesses and even some businesses closing their doors due to labor shortages.  John Anderson couldn’t help but observe that the seven million men is about the number of the entire work force in Australia. Encouraging members of society to be productive members of that society was something that wasn’t even thought to be necessary in our grandparents’ era. 

Encouraging people to be non-productive members of society should concern all of us.  Our political representatives should understand the threat if we encourage citizens to not contribute to our country's well-being but instead serve as an anchor for those who are.  What happens to our nation when the anchors get too heavy?

By Ken Hamilton, Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President