Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ice Skating and Fiscal Responsbility

A few years back, the local ice skating rink offered homeschool ice skating classes at a reasonable rate, and we took them up on it, along with several other homeschool families in the area. The girls and I both enjoyed visiting with friends every Thursday, and the kids got some exercise and training in a sport-- bringing their bodies under subjection. It was very good.

And Mariel was *very* good. I mean, she is talented at ice skating. Her sisters are good, too, but Mariel has the risk-taking and high energy needed to really excel at this sport, and she intuitively knows how to spin and when to jump. She and her sisters wanted to keep taking lessons after they passed through the levels taught in the homeschool classes. A beginning ice skating coach agreed to teach all three of them in one private lesson, and we were off.

There was a small problem, though. Finances. It is *expensive* to get into ice skating. You pay for the skates, and the rink fees, and the coaching tuition and the competition fees and the costumes. We kept up the semi-private lessons for around six months (I think) using rental skates and barely scraping up rink fees, and then the girls' coach said she would like Mariel to enter a competition in the spring. There would be a competition fee and she would require a costume, and it might be a good idea to get her some better skates-- the blades on rental skates are so warped that they interfere with performance.

It was then that Mr. Honey and I realized that pursuing ice skating for even one of our three was not sustainable in our current financial situation-- that no matter how good it would be for our girl, we would be sacrificing other, weightier matters, to give her this dream.

This is a sad story, isn't it? I mean, we all want to give our kids the best. But there are limits to what we can give.

We talked to Mariel and explained that we just couldn't keep paying for the sport. We explained that if she really wanted to do it, she needed to work hard and save up money so we knew she was serious, and then we would put in as much as we could. She would probably have to get her lessons, skates, costumes and competitions in fits and starts, but would still be able to do her sport.

Now, a wise person would have counted the cost before committing and not have broken her daughter's heart. I never said we were wise. But we do learn lessons when experience knocks us over the head.

It just struck me as I was reading this article on the sustainability of government entitlement programs, that our government needs to learn the lesson that Mr. Honey and I learned in the ice skating situation and that Europe is now learning: if you commit to spending you cannot sustain, something will have to give down the road.

Let's say, in theory, that passing one of the recent spending bills in Congress would be (or was) a good thing. If the United States was the responsible head of a family, it would need to decide what it was going to eliminate from the budget in order to fit this new good thing into the budget.

But, as the article points out, once a popular government starts handing out money, it isn't strong enough to repeal those entitlements.

No joke. It was incredibly difficult as parents to backtrack with the ice skating. We did it because it was necessary, and we were able to do it because our household is not a democracy, nor even a republic. But it made us unpopular for awhile. And in a popular government, it is very hard to sustain your majority when you are unpopular.

We can only be a republic if we as a people have the integrity to deny ourselves. We are not superhumans-- our government is not immune to laws of economics. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone is paying for what someone else gets for free, and eventually the people paying get discouraged.

(I understand that some folks are in horrid financial straits, and all I am saying here is that if our government is going to help those folks, it needs to cut programs somewhere else. Money, like time, is finite.* However, my personal political belief is that help and relief ought to come from the private sector as much as possible, and that government's job is defense and infrastructure. Mr. Honey and I give as much as we can to worthy causes because of this belief. Of course, we are also paying for government entitlement programs. Think what we could do if we were free to focus our giving on organizations we feel are doing the best job helping folks.)

*((By this statement I mean that when you are doing a budget, there is a finite amount of money you can reasonably count on. I realize that in saying that 'money is finite' I open up the argument of wealth creation vs. spreading the wealth. I haven't studied enough to know my position on that issue. But we can all agree that there is a finite amount of money an entity can reasonably count on when figuring out a budget.))

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