Living beyond your means

The Madison County Record Dec. 13, 2009, 10:00am

There are only two ways to get out of debt: make more money or spend less.

Every sensible person knows this, and everyone who's been in debt has had to use one of the two approaches, or a combination of the two, to get out of the hole.

If you're making as much money as you can, working two or more jobs, and still can't make ends meet, you may have no choice but to cut expenses to the bare minimum, sell what you have, and move in with a friend or relative. Without support, you may have to live on the street.

Borrowing money to make ends meet may help in the short run, but in the long run it puts you in a bigger hole. After a while, people won't lend you money and you're confronted again with the only real solution: make more money and spend less.

The same rule applies to businesses and governments. The problem with governments, of course, is that the primary source of income is tax revenue, which government doesn't really earn but rather extracts from the citizenry. It's not government money being spent. It's our money and government has had little incentive to economize. We, the taxpayers, are the ones held responsible for their profligacy.

Even government has a breaking point. Taxes can be raised only so high before the rate becomes counterproductive and revenues decline. Businesses start to relocate, further eroding the tax base. Citizens get disgusted and start to move elsewhere.

That's what's happening here in Illinois.

Just this week, Moody's Investors Service downgraded our bond ratings because of "high structural imbalances," giving Illinois the second lowest rating of the 50 states, just ahead of basket-case California.

Under present circumstances, the State of Illinois cannot "make" any more money. It may not be able to borrow much longer either, even at increasingly higher rates. It has no choice but to reduce spending to the bare minimum.

Politicians have to face the economic fact that the end of spending isn't near; it's here.

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