Presidents Day is more than just a federal holiday. Historically it’s the day I sit down and pull all my “tax stuff” together so it can be sent off to my friendly semi-local accountant. Yeah, I know, I’m not in any way a creature of habit.
Put another way, Presidents Day is my own personal day of rage as I start getting a sense of just how much of the last year I spent working just to avoid being thrown into state or federal prison for non-compliance with an extortion racket backed by the full force of government.
Then I start to ponder the fact that the national debt will crash through $28,000,000,000,000 in short order… and realize that it would take more than 1.5x the current Gross Domestic Product to pay off our current dept. I have no idea how that level of debt is sustainable over the long term, unless, of course, we adopt some wildly confiscatory tax scheme. That comes with its own inevitable pitfalls too.
I’ve heard it said that “taxes are the price we pay for civilization,” but as I’m sitting here looking at sheets full of numbers, I can’t help but wonder how much longer we can reasonably expect the government to carry the full freight of those costs. Given the profound ineptitude of our elected officials, I’m even more incredulous about why we’d even want them involved in all the nooks and crevices where they’re currently spending our tax dollars.
According to some random website, 71% of people surveyed currently disapprove of how Congress is going its job. Allowing an organization that more than 2/3 of the country believes is doing the wrong thing to walk around with an open checkbook and cheering while they spend feels like the height of absurdity.
1. Deficit spending. If reports are to be believed, in the first four months of FY 2020, the US government took in a single quarter record amount of tax dollars – some $1.18 Trillion. It also had record quarterly expenses of $1.57 Trillion. In the first four months of this fiscal year, the government ran a deficit of approximately $444 Billion. In a budget where millions of dollars are effectively rounding errors, I’m left to wonder if the problem isn’t so much that taxes are too low as it is that we collectively just spend too damned much money. Once upon a time there was a subset of Republicans called deficit hawks who raged against borrowing money to finance the operation of the government. They’re long gone, of course. No one in the elected levels of government has any interest in slowing down the gravy train. Having seen the inner workings of government, I find it absolutely laughable to think that in the last 90 days we’ve put $1.57 Trillion to its best and highest use. The percentage of it that’s been wasted would be staggering to behold if anyone was able to do the accounting. The first order of business should be slaughtering the sacred cows. Until that happens, I’ll stand firmly on my platform of not one more penny in new taxes.
2. The pall of ambivalence. I’m kicking off a 4-day weekend and the last couple of weeks have cast such a gloom on the proceedings that I’m, at best, mostly indifferent. Maybe my mood will improve a bit after a string of days allocated to hanging out with the animals and reading. It usually does… but I’m not optimistic about how long the restorative effects of that brief interlude will last.
3. Out of office messages. As a “professional” I understand that out of office messages are supposed to contain brief, helpful information such as the date you should return or an alternative point of contact people can reach in your absence. As such, I can’t shake the feeling that they really don’t convey the more subtle message that the sender is conveying. For instance, instead of saying something trite and derivative like “I will respond to email and voice messages as quickly as possible when I return,” I feel that the more frank and honest out of office message might read something like “I’m burning off a day of vacation time in an effort to hold on to the one small shred of sanity I have left. I’m not checking my office email or voicemail. If you call me at home or send me a Facebook message asking about work stuff, I’ll ignore you and do whatever I can, whenever I can to make your life less pleasant. Whatever the issue is, as far as I’m concerned it’s more of a “next week” problem and not something I’ll be spending any time thinking about between now and then.
I feel about federal holidays like some women seem to feel about shoes; I love them and can never, never get enough. As much as I love President’s Day for being one of the days I can sit back with my feet up and enjoy not doing a damned thing. Nothing in life is free, of course, and that means taking the bad with the good. In this case, the bad is that President’s Day is the last holiday between now and the end of May. Call me crazy but the months just seem to go better when you have a impending long weekend to look forward to every few weeks. Having one 90-odd days off into the future doesn’t have the same motivational effect. No one has ever accused me of being a big fan of delayed gratification.
Sure, be happy you have a job, not everyone even gets federal holidays, blah, blah, blah. All of those things may be true, but the only thing I see stretching out in front of me between here and May 27th is dead space. Well, dead space and as-yet-unscheduled days of annual leave, but mostly dead space. And please, don’t get me started on how it’s possible that it’s the middle of February already. I’m pretty sure time has been set to march past at the double quick. First world problems, to be sure, but since I live in the first world, I just think of them as the regular kind of problems.
Surely I’m not the only one out there who sees the concept of celebrating labor by taking the day off, drinking beer, and grilling as just a little bit ironic, right? Look. now I’m the last person to object in any way, shape or form to a free day off, I’m just saying that honoring labor by sitting around doing nothing productive seems like kind of a stretch. I don’t think it’s ironic enough to drive me to do free work or anything, but still maybe we should just call it Non-denominational Early September Civic Holiday to better reflect the nature of the day. Just throwing that out there for your collective consideration.
There may be nothing in this great land of ours more useless than an government office on the Friday before a federal holiday. If you’ve ever worked in one, you know that’s not an exaggeration. Between people taking leave and the magic that is the Alternate Work Schedule program, no more than half the staff shows up to begin with. Around noon another 10-20% disappear to start their weekend. If anything was getting done to begin with, you can forget it after 2:00. The handful of people manning their desks are just a skeleton crew, left behind to give the illusion of productivity and even at that they’re not working very hard. Every eye falls on the minute hand as it sweeps its way around the clock to the earliest possible moment for departure.
I’ve always worked with a lot of people who take these days off since “nothing’s going to happen anyway.” I’m a bit of a contrarian about time off, though. Why burn up eight perfectly good hours of leave on a day when no real work is going to happen even if you do spend the whole day at your desk? I’d much rather save my time off for days when all hell is breaking loose. It’s a matter of extracting maximum value from every hour away from the office. Time off isn’t much good when I’m relaxed already. Feel me?
If Uncle wanted to save some scratch, he’d go ahead and shutter every office on the Friday before a holiday weekend. Whatever small amount of productivity happens is almost purely accidental and can’t come close to offsetting the cost of just turning the lights on.
It’s Washington’s official birthday, which means your friendly neighborhood federal bureaucrats (and bank tellers) are enjoying a long weekend. As far as federal holidays go, this one is bittersweet. On one hand I’m ridiculously happy to have an extra day off, but on the other, it’s a reminder that it’s the last “free” day off until Memorial Day shows up late in May. As most of you undoubtedly know already, three months of normal 5-day work weeks is a very long time. It’s a shock to the system when you’ve gotten use to having one or more holidays in each month since November. With unemployment still running more than twice what it was a decade ago, the lack of holidays is probably a good problem to have, but that mental exercise doesn’t really make me feel any better about the long, uninterrupted march to summer. It might just be time to start thinking about drawing down some of the mountain of vacation time I’ve got sitting in the bank.
In the meantime, it’s off to celebrate General Washington’s birthday. What can a poor humble blogger add to the celebration of the man who refused to rule as king… other than wishing a few of our contemporary leaders would follow his example and go away after two terms.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.