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Uncle Sam is an enabler of the worst kind

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POSTED August 30, 2009 2:44 a.m.
Uncle Sam is turning into the relative who undermines good parenting by lavishing kids with expensive gifts, giving them candy before dinner and letting them stay up until all hours of the night and ignore basic disciplines like doing you homework and chores.

There is now a proposal for Uncle Sam to offer “Cash for Appliances” to encourage people to buy energy efficient appliances. This little chunk of the stimulus act money comes to $300 million.

Whatever happened to people doing the right thing without getting additional financial rewards from Uncle Sam?

I’ve got to be honest here. I bought my Ford Escape hybrid a little over three years ago because I thought it was the right thing to do. Two weeks later, Congress adopted a $2,500 tax credit for buying a hybrid. The extra cost didn’t pencil out at the time for gas savings – it does now – but that wasn’t my main concern. It was about reducing air pollution. If you don’t think we have a personal obligation to improve air quality, spend a summer in Bakersfield where people toil to raise much of the food we eat. That ugly air is partially the fault of everyone here.

I also closed escrow on my house less than a year before Uncle Sam started tossing out $8,000 for free. It made sense for me to buy when I did even though the market dropped farther. It was the responsible thing to do.

Now, just a week after buying an energy and water efficient washing machine I now find that Uncle Sam is going to give away more money to folks who buy energy efficient washing machines and other appliances.

Yes, I’m in line to get a $100 rebate from the City of Manteca water division and a $75 rebate from PG&E. In both cases, though as a ratepayer I’m paying money into those funds. Essentially I’m getting money back that I’ve paid as part of my basic bill. It is a strategy that encourages ratepayers to reduce the need for costly expansions of power and water sources. In the case of Uncle Sam, our great-grandkids will be picking up the tab.

Even with the rebates, it will take me a couple of years to recoup the savings over a conventional washing machine. That’s fine. We all have an obligation to do what we can when we can to conserve resources.

Uncle Sam – if he is really concerned about reducing energy consumption – should simply outlaw the sale of appliances that don’t meet specific energy miser standards. Just like with hybrid vehicles, the more energy efficient appliances produced and sold, the lower the cost per unit. It also increases the number of potential used appliances down the road that will be available in the resale market for people who can’t afford new ones.

Even if prices don’t drop enough to make them affordable for people who make less money, the fact people may have to repair appliances instead of junking them also saves energy. It takes power – after all – to fashion machines out or either steel, iron, aluminum or whatever national resource is needed.

It is time to end the bailout mentality that is raging full bore along the Potomac and address the underlying problems by getting back to economic basics.

One of those basics is the idea of personal responsibility. That, of course, is a foreign concept to your typical politician or career bureaucrat whose world revolves around whoever is in power.

Another basic is reasonable debt. There was a time when debt was reserved for big ticket items such as appliances, cars and houses. It wasn’t to spread out the cost of a meal at Applebee’s over seven years.  It is ironic, in a way that most who are taking advantage of the $8,000 housing credit and the Cash for Clunkers are doing so responsibly. The one that isn’t is the federal government. One doesn’t pile on debt when you can’t afford it nor can pay for it.

However, when you’re addicted to stimulus money as the magic cure all common sense and the long range outlook become superfluous. It is all about a quick high but like all uppers – economic and otherwise - you are going to crash unless you keep main-lining the stimulus cash.

America needs Uncle Sam to provide tough love and not be an enabler.
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