Click here to listen to the broadcast of You Tell Me on KTBB AM 600, Friday, March 2, 2012.
Liam Byrne was the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, kind of the number two treasury official in Great Britain behind the Chancellor of the Exchequer. According to a story in the Telegraph of London, as he was leaving office in 2010, he left his successor a note that simply said, “Dear Chief Secretary. I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left.”
(So sorry, old boy.)
There’s no money left in the U.K. and there’s no money left here. The only difference is that the coalition government is admitting as much in Britain while politicians on both sides of the aisle here in the U.S. talk of our dismal finances only in oblique terms.
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer customarily presents the budget to the public in a speech to the House of Commons on Budget Day, almost always a Tuesday in March.
In his budget speech this month, the current Chancellor, George Osborne, is expected to say officially what he has been saying informally since taking the office — that that the U.K. can no longer afford its social programs, cannot afford to cut taxes and can do little to stimulate the economy.
“The British Government has run out of money because all the money was spent in the good years,” said Osborne. “The money and the investment and the jobs need to come from the private sector.”
Osborne is a member of the Conservative Party and holds the job of Chancellor of the Exchequer under a coalition government in which Conservatives hold more seats than the Labour Party but nevertheless lack a majority. Predictably, the members of the liberal Labour Party take exception to Mr. Osborne’s assessment. They don’t believe that reliance on the private sector is the only hope for avoiding fiscal Armageddon and, like Democrats in the U.S., believe that government spending must play a major role in reviving the flagging British economy.
The riots that took place in London last year as a result of the government even mentioning raising the out-of-pocket cost for college is evidence that consensus on what to do about Britain’s poor financial condition remains as elusive as the debates are contentious.
But at least credit the Brits with this much. Aside from the unavoidable extremists and wingnuts, reasonable people on both sides in the U.K. at least recognize that the country is, in fact, out of money. Which is more than can be said for our government.
Worse, it’s apparently more than can be said for our Republican candidates for president.
That the country is broke, and can no longer afford even its existing social programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, let alone expansions such as Obamacare, is an admission that will never come from the Obama administration.
But let me ask you, how directly have you heard this stated by Santorum, Romney or Gingrich? (And please spare me your emails. I know that Ron Paul has gotten somewhere close to the core of this issue, but he will never be president.)
To my ear, of the current frontrunners, Romney is parsing every single vote that Santorum ever took in the Senate in the hope of making political hay while Santorum is apparently stuck on the tar baby subject of contraception.
Neither is actually saying out loud in plain English that the country is broke, will be unable to borrow to meet its cash needs for much longer and that unless dramatic changes are implemented by the next administration, could soon find itself past the point of financial return.
The Brits are at least saying it out loud, which is progress.
I fear that our politicians never will.