Sequester: What If Government Had to Operate Like Farms?

Husker Home Place

What if our government had to live by a budget and cash flow, and apply to the American people each year for finances?

Published on: March 5, 2013

The great Civil War historian, Shelby Foote, once said that Americans pride themselves in being independent, self-reliant and unyielding. Yet, in Foote’s opinion, the country’s greatest genius has always been in our ability to compromise. His point was that when compromise failed, bad things happened.

Partisanship is useful in government, but only when the partisans eventually come together and hammer out something that is best for our country. What is happening in Washington, D.C. these days displays little common horse sense and lot of ideological positioning. And there is plenty of blame to go around.

Perhaps allowing the so-called sequester to take place is the right thing for our future. Political doomsday predictions aside, at least some future spending will be cut, as long as administrators wield cutting knives to trim the fat, not to inflict political pain. After all, we can’t forget that the money we spend today will not be paid back by us, but by our children and grandchildren.

FOR OUR FUTURE: Sacrificing today is OK if it means a more secure future for these guys.
FOR OUR FUTURE: Sacrificing today is OK if it means a more secure future for these guys.

What if the U.S. government had to operate finances like farmers do? Government officials would have begun working on a budget analysis long ago. They would be required to keep track of their expenses meticulously, and be able to defend them to the banker. If they didn’t come up with a balance sheet, cash flow and budget for the next year, there would be no financing.

Before the end of the year, they would have to apply for enough financing from the bank to cover expected expenses throughout the entire year, and they would have to live within their means. They would have to go in to the banker, work over their budget carefully, defend capital expenditures, proposed raises in operating expenses and every cent of potential income on the cash flow statement.

If the numbers weren’t right, they would have to go back and start over, tweaking expenses, finding more income to make it all balance out in the end. And, if for some reason things didn’t work out as planned, their options for further borrowing might be limited. They might also be required to do more “pencil-pushing” the following year when they went in for year-end analysis.

On the farm, if things don’t cash flow and if you don’t pay your bills, you don’t operate for very long.

As always, the folks operating our government could learn something from how farmers operate. It would be good if they had to learn what it means to “tighten the belt” in lean years and account for every penny. After all, we Americans are the bankers, and we probably should be demanding a little more justification and a little less partisanship from lawmakers and government officials when it comes time to plan our country’s financial future. Our country’s future is not for us. It’s for our children. And farmers, as much as any business owners, care deeply about legacy and building a future for our children, even when it means sacrifices by our own generation.

Be sure to watch Nebraska Farmer online and read our March print issue of Nebraska Farmer for news, information and tips on meeting the challenges of drought. Your best online resource for drought information is the Farm Progress drought site at Dateline Drought. And watch this blog the last Friday of every month for my new “special report” featuring the families growing our food.