Having too much money is a dangerous thing

February 21, 1999|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder/Tribune

THERE IS BIG TROUBLE BREWING in Washington. And I am not talking that mess involving Monica Lewinsky and President You Know Who. Nobody cares about that anymore. The public is sick of it. The Republicans could produce a videotape of the president and Monica pistol-whipping a 7-Eleven clerk and then performing an illegal act with a Slim Jim, and the public would say, "So what! Let's focus on the issues!"

No, the trouble I'm talking about is the federal budget surplus. It is raging out of control.

What, exactly, is this surplus, and why is it such a threat? To answer those questions, perhaps it will help if we take a moment to briefly review the history of our federal budget. Or perhaps it will not. But just try to stop us.

For many thousands of years, there was no federal budget. America was run by native Americans who had a tribal form of government and used a simple tax form made of bark. The first Europeans to arrive were the Vikings, who landed here around 700 A.D. but were eliminated in the playoffs. They were followed by Christopher Columbus, who actually thought he had discovered India. (He thought this because the native Americans, who were big pranksters, had erected a huge sign that said "Welcome to India!") This was followed by what historians call the Bunch of Boring Wars, which ended up with England in charge of the colonies. But then the king of England, King Really Stupid, enacted a tea tax, which was extremely unpopular with the colonists, who were fond of their "tea," which was colonial slang for marijuana. And thus the United States was formed.

In those days, the federal government's only function was to deliver the mail, which consisted of a few dozen handwritten parchment letters from Ed McMahon. The government didn't need much money; in fact, the original Internal Revenue Service consisted of just two employees and one horse, which would conduct audits by standing on selected taxpayers' heads.

Over the years, the federal government got bored with delivering mail, so it came up with many important new programs, such as the Department of Commerce, which carries out the vital work of doing whatever it is that the Department of Commerce does. As the government's money requirements grew, so did the IRS, which today employs more than 165,000 personnel and nearly 11,000 horses.

Today the federal budget stands -- or, technically, squats -- at well over $1 trillion. It is difficult for average moron taxpayers like ourselves to grasp a number that large, so to make the budget surplus problem more understandable, let's compare the federal government to a lemonade stand operated by two youngsters named "Billy" and "Suzy" (not their real names).

Billy and Suzy have mixed up a batch of "lemonade," or government programs. Whenever a "customer," or taxpayer, comes along, he or she decides to pay Billy and Suzy a percentage of his or her income, because otherwise they will put him or her into federal prison. In return for this money, Billy and Suzy do not give any lemonade to the customer. They give it to various organizations and individuals deemed worthy of lemonade, such as the Department of Commerce, retired people, defense contractors, and researchers studying the dangers of inadequately heated soup.

For years, Billy and Suzy gave away so much lemonade that, no matter how much money they got from their customers, they still had to borrow more. But now, suddenly, they are way ahead. They are taking in billions more dollars from their customers than they are spending on lemonade. Even if they start paying back the borrowed money, they have billions and billions left over, piling up all over Billy's and Suzy's lawn to the point where their dog, "Spot," sometimes has no choice but to relieve himself on it.

This is the problem that our government leaders are wracking their brains over now. Impossible as it may sound, the government is unable to spend money as fast as it is collecting it. This is a very serious problem.

Why? Because, according to economists, unless something is done -- and soon -- to relieve the massive buildup of excess tax receipts, the Treasury Building could explode and release its contents into the atmosphere, forming an immense cloud of money that could be blown by prevailing winds over a populated area. If the wind were to shift, the money could fall back to Earth, where some of it could, conceivably, wind up -- this is referred to in top-secret government documents as "The Doomsday Scenario" -- back in the hands of taxpayers.

A chilling Stephen King nightmare scenario, you say? Unfortunately, it could happen, unless our leaders are able to figure out what to do about the surplus. Until they do, we, as taxpayers, should minimize the risk of coming into direct contact with our money by remaining indoors as much possible, living on canned goods, which we should, according to recent studies, heat properly.

Pub Date: 02/22/99

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