The Missing Fiscal God Particle

Last week, the hopes of physicists everywhere were dashed again. The elusive Higgs boson particle remains elusive. Without going into a bunch of boring science, the Higgs, also known as the “God particle”, is a major big deal. It’s never been seen and there is no evidence that it actually exists, but it has to be real. Why? Without it, much of what we believe about physics is wrong. The mystery particle is the glue that holds our theories together. So, scientists are looking for it everywhere. Good luck to them in their search. Otherwise, they’re staring at a very steep learning curve.

Like modern physics, there’s a missing God particle in our national fiscal model, the glue that holds it together. But, unlike physics, the existence of the fiscal particle is no mystery. We’ve all seen it. The only puzzle surrounding it is that politicians of every stripe ignore it. You can’t find the particle in any of their machinations about the broken economy, the underfunded entitlements or the ginormous national debt. Until it’s factored in as part of the solution, whatever they come up with will eventually fall apart.

What is the fiscal God particle? Personal responsibility. The thing that drives individual goals, determination, hard work and achievement. It’s the antithesis of the self-absorbed, and shortsighted, notion that your neighbor gets to pay for your bad choices.

What does personal responsibility have to do with the state of our fiscal health? The biggest financial mess facing us today is the debt. The government spends trillions more dollars than the amount of revenue it collects. The biggest share of the spending spree is on entitlements. With the first wave of the baby boomers starting to empty that cupboard, and healthcare costs increasing annually, things are going to get beyond worse. And the Obamacare price tag, whatever that ends up being, is not yet included in these calculations.

At least five plans claiming to have the answer to our debt problems have surfaced. Each is a combination of spending reductions and tax increases, among other things, although they vary widely on what to cut and where to increase. There’s the Obama proposal, the Ryan budget, the Domenici-Rivlin plan, the Congressional Progressive Caucus offering and the President’s Debt Commission thing. Anyway you look at it, solving the debt crisis isn’t going to be easy.

Enter personal responsibility. How about reducing spending significantly by reducing the demand for the services it funds? As an example, take a look at the impact of obesity on healthcare costs. In 2006, obesity increased Medicare costs by $1,723 per obese individual and Medicaid expenditures by $1,021. Private insurers paid $1,140 more for each obese insured. In the case of Medicare, these cost differences amount to $46,000 in additional expenses over the lifetime of each obese individual.

Meanwhile, Medicare coverage is expanding to cover anti-obesity treatment. That’s a good news-bad news thing. Reducing obesity is a good thing but the cost associated with the new treatment increases the Medicare price tag. The treatment’s efficacy remains to be seen.

Over the past few decades, obesity has become an epidemic in the U.S. According to the CDC, the number of obese adults doubled between 1980 and 2008. The number of obese children tripled in the same time period. By 2009, over one-third of adults and 17 percent of children in America were obese. These skyrocketing weight gains show no sign of slowing down and they’re escalating healthcare costs right along with them. If Americans continue to pork up, obesity will amount to 21 percent of all healthcare costs in seven short years.

Whacking 21 percent off of healthcare costs is a huge plus while allowing them to increase without bound is irresponsible. If the needle stops in the obese zone when you step on the scale, it’s past time to get a handle on your weight problem. Push yourself away from the table before you bury your neighbors in your healthcare costs. That’ll put the God particle back into the fiscal model.

Next up, the high cost of smoking.

See you in the mirror.