Families don’t balance their budgets

A popular right-wing rhetorical trope involves saying that families work hard and sacrifice to balance their budgets, and so should the federal government. The standard line against this point has been to retort that family budget and federal budgets are very different animals. And indeed they are.

But the argument that there is a disanalogy between the two kinds of budgets is not the only one available here. Prior to even getting to that argument, one can remark that it is simply not true that families sit down at the kitchen table and balance their budgets. Some do, but as a recent Census report points out, 69 percent do not. That is the percentage of households that are carrying debt. So the super-majority of households do not balance their budgets, despite what the GOP keeps saying.

Just as it would be ridiculous for the federal government to always pursue a balanced budget, it is ridiculous for families to do so as well. Imagine having to save up enough money to buy a house. By the time you could afford it, you’d be nearing retirement. Sensible people and governments run unbalanced budgets when it is worthwhile to do so. Now we can quibble about when it is worthwhile for the federal government to do so, and debate about what “worthwhile” means in that context. But to suggest that entities should categorically balance their budget each year flies in the face of what businesses, households, and everyone else does.

I suspect the GOP is not so dumb as to think households do not take on debt. Clearly on the year that you get a mortgage to buy a house, you run an enormous budget deficit. If nothing else, the Republicans must see that. What they must have in mind is that households pay all of their bills each month, including bills to service their debt. So households pay their credit card bills and their mortgage payments and whatever else. But so does the federal government. The federal government pays all of its bills each month, services its debts, and so on. The only time it comes close to not doing so is when we near some sort of manufactured fiscal crisis like the debt ceiling debacle of 2 summers ago.

However you cut it, the GOP is way out in crazytown on this line of rhetoric. Not that they particularly care: I am sure it scores well in focus groups or something.