As I prepare for my trip to Washington, D.C. next month with members of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, I’m beginning to review some of the topics facing the nation.

One that stands out over and over again is debt.

Our national debt now tops $16.5 trillion and it’s growing exponentially by the day. In fact, if you visit one of the many online “debt clocks,” you can watch the amount change almost constantly.

I don’t even know how to get my head around that amount — other than to say it’s terrible. The average debt share per U.S. citizen is $52,000.

We heard about debt during elections and the fiscal cliff discussions that followed, and we’re hearing about it again as Congress and the White House consider ways to raise the debt ceiling, so we can keep our government running and borrow even more money to do so.

The Republicans blame Democrats, and the Democrats fault the Republicans. This is nothing new.

Start with yourself

But instead of blaming policymakers, whom undoubtedly have a big hand in how the nation’s money is spent — I think individual citizens should be held just as accountable — perhaps more.

I understand the need for “some” social service programs. Life is filled with many unexpecteds. But I can’t help but think how much less need there would be, and how much more wealth the nation would have, if people did their own part.

That old saying: “Learn to live within your means.” It’s the truth, and more people need to start doing this.

By the numbers

More than two-thirds of the nation’s farm bill now goes toward food and nutrition programs, including food stamps. Some 4.3 million Americans receive federal welfare, and 46.7 million receive food stamps. In my state — Ohio — nearly half of school children rely on some form of free or reduced school lunch.

According to CreditCards.com, the average American household with at least one credit card now has nearly $16,000 in credit card debt.

Sure, things have been difficult the past few years. I’m not denying that. But no economic condition can explain the kind of fiscal foolishness that has become so popular.

We’ve shifted from paying at the cash register to “buy-now, pay-later,” for things we don’t even need. And when the time to pay finally comes, the consumer too often is broke.

Hurting everyone

Even if you’re one of the people who has figured out how to live within your means, you’re still paying for the millions of Americans who have not.

Every time that a so-called “free” meal is served, or a “free” hospital visit is provided, someone out there is paying.

I read an article by Forbes in January, that said unpaid hospital visits in the nation now cost $41 billion annually.

I understand that some situations are beyond our control. But keep in mind, every doctor and nurse who goes unpaid has bills of his own — and families of their own — and they need to be paid so they can meet their own needs. Hospitals across the nation are laying off their staff because they can no-longer afford to provide health care to a population that isn’t paying.

Priorities first

We need to do a better job of prioritizing. Food, shelter, transportation and a job are a good place to start.

Health insurance should be a priority — ahead of cell phones, Internet, alcohol and even dining out.

I do not know the master formula for ending debt. But there are some commonsense things that need to happen that would make a big difference. We need to identify some of those things and follow them. And when you see something that is foolish and unsustainable, identify that, too, and stay away.

We cannot continue to live and spend as we want, and expect someone else to pay.

It’s like the old adage, “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of the other person’s money.”

“Eventually” is happening right now. And it’s getting to the point where the “other person” is closer to home than we think.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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