The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 16, 2012

ZACHARY HUBBARD | Reckless spending rampant across America


— I’m a Judge Judy fan, and I watch her TV show often.

I admire her remarkable common sense, a rare commodity today.

One aspect of American life where common sense seems to have nearly vanished is when it comes to spending.

Recently, I was left dumbfounded by a woman on the Judge Judy show. A mother of several small children, the poor lady had recently lost her job. She received a modest severance package of about $15,000.

Instead of clinging to the cash, she proceeded to take her kids and boyfriend on vacation to a popular resort.  

The trip depleted more than half of her severance pay.  

What was she thinking?  

It’s difficult to know for sure, but one can easily surmise that her decision was based on emotions, not logic.  

She was trying to feel good during a very bad situation.

Her appearance before Judge Judy was to sue the now ex-boyfriend to reimburse her for part of the trip.  

Judge Judy dismissed her case.  

Sadly, there’s the example of a relative of mine. He was a schoolteacher and a resolute bachelor. I always admired his frugality. Even on a relatively low teacher’s salary, he was able to save for vacations to Bali, Taiwan and Tokyo. His house was filled with neat stuff collected from around the world. He was living the dream. Or so I thought.  

As it turned out, when he filed for bankruptcy he had more than $75,000 in credit card debt and a huge house he couldn’t afford on a meager teacher’s pension. Much of his fleeting happiness was attained through instant gratification made possible by credit cards and avoiding the payment of his debts.

Needless to say, his retirement hasn’t delivered the gratification he had hoped for.  

Instead, his golden years have yielded little more than pain and depression. What was he thinking?

Then there are the desperate people I observe in my local community. These folks, some of whom probably don’t know where their next meal will come from, line up daily to purchase lottery tickets at local gas stations and grocery stores. Many have reached such low points that striking it rich in the lottery is the only hope they have.  

Until recently, there was a lottery store next door to the fitness center where I work out. It is closed now. Frequently, as I jogged on a treadmill, I observed cars parking in the fire lane while the driver or a passenger, mostly senior citizens, went inside to purchase tickets. I have seen people using walkers shuffle inside to purchase a lottery chance.  

What were they thinking?  

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has convinced many of its citizens that playing the lottery is fun. It even has a cute, robotic groundhog named Gus making lottery commercials intended to convince the good citizens that the state lottery is something other than a voluntary tax on those who play. Pennsylvania also sanctions casinos that have made the state second only to Nevada when it comes to gambling revenues. Has blowing money in a casino suddenly become a good thing?

This brings us to the world of national politics, where reckless spending has become the status quo for Capitol Hill politicians. Please explain to me why any honest member of Congress might disapprove of having a balanced budget.

Name one negative aspect of balancing the budget.  

Before you answer, think about your own budget. Have you any reason to believe that spending more than you earn will secure a comfortable future for you? If you said yes, I respectfully request that you book a seat on the next flight back to your planet of origin.

What are you thinking?

With the exception of gas prices, health-care costs are probably getting more attention than any other topic in the current presidential election contest. In the health-care realm, two adages apply:  

“You get what you pay for, and “You pay for what you get.” There’s no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to government. Government run health care is no exception.

If the government guarantees universal health care, then it must guarantee tax increases or other measures to pay for it. Americans can no longer afford instant gratification from government, especially when it comes to health care.

Before implementing a universal health-care system, we need to re-evaluate how we spend health-care dollars.  

For example, according to the government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, more than one-quarter of Medicare expenditures are spent on beneficiaries in their last year of life. Unfortunately, while many Americans would like to have a government guarantee against death, everyone is going to die.  

Discussions about so-called government death panels that decide how health care is rationed are important. How Americans spend their final year of life should be a matter for extensive public debate.

Just as citizens fund the lottery, they are going to fund universal health care. Americans must decide if it is better to spend what often amounts to hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dollars to prolong the lives of those who are dying or to spend lesser amounts to ensure their final days are spent comfortably and with dignity.

Unfortunately, you have to look far and wide to find a politician willing to entertain a debate on this or any other tough health-care issue. They will say anything to placate voters, but they won’t deliver the promised gratification.

Americans deserve an honest debate about the costs, both moral and financial, of universal health care. It will be expensive and somebody will have to pay for it, whether it is administered through government programs or private enterprise.    


Zachary Hubbard is a freelance writer residing in Upper Yoder Township. He is a member of The Tribune-Democrat Reader Advisory Committee.

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