I ran into my old buddy Stinky Wilmont the other day, and in the course of our conversation, the subject of New Year’s resolutions came up. I asked Stinky if he was going to make any, and he replied that in 2011, he was going to resolve to gain 20 pounds and acquire a few more credit cards.
When I pointed out that those resolutions ran afoul of conventional resolutions, Stinky said that he realized they did, but that he had never had much luck with plans that involved losing weight or trimming his budget. He said he thought he would feel better about himself if he could keep whatever resolutions he made it, and since gaining weight and spending money kind of came naturally for him anyway, it just seemed like the logical way to go.
I started to explain to him that those resolutions probably weren’t in his best long term interest, but Stinky didn’t tend to think that far ahead. Besides, resolutions are kind of like promises to yourself by yourself, so Stinky’s resolutions probably weren’t any of my business, anyway.
But there is a difference between resolutions and promises. For years, politicians have been getting elected by making promises to the voters. A lot of those promises were about money. Sometimes they promised money they didn’t really have yet. Sometimes they had the money and spent it on something they had promised to somebody else. Sometimes they never had the money at all. Most of the time they were promising somebody else’s money anyway.
That’s what happened down in Prichard, Alabama. A while back, Prichard told about 150 city retirees that the city didn’t have enough money to pay them the pensions they were promised. They can still find the people that made the promises, but apparently they’re having trouble finding the people that will keep them.
Prichard, Alabama is just one of many entities across the country that has made promises it cannot keep. Public employee pensions have promised $3.2 trillion that they don’t have. Social Security and Medicare are in the same shape, but on a larger scale, and every day, another 10,000 citizens will turn 65, and get in line for their share of the promises the government made, and hope there are still enough people around willing to keep those promises somebody else made for them.
Over the next few years, we are going to hear a lot of stories about pension plans from all levels of government that have run out of money. Most of the problems will be the result of the government making promises to other people for other people.
We could solve a lot of those problems if we could just take on some personal responsibility, and start making and keeping our own promises.
Maybe that would be a good New Year’s resolution for all of us.