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#193 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 21, 2011

We need more than a paint job
By Curtis Seltzer

BLUE GRASS, VA.óIíve been intoxicated for the last seven weeks.

This is not an unknown condition for many writers, but it is for meóa guy whoís almost a teetotaler.

Iíve been inhaling fumes, specifically those from Benjamin Mooreís Moorglos SoftGloss LIFETIME WARRANTY 100% Acrylic Exterior House Paint, Brilliant White. This is not the same as sniffing LíEspirit de Courvoisier.

Iíve also been writing inside the percussion section of a paintersí orchestra. Hammers hammering; power washers chugging and blasting; scrapers scraping. One fellow even fell on and broke the skylight above my desk, a dramatic crescendo that concluded that dayís concert.

Writers are quiet creatures when theyíre writing, at least I am. Morning doves and a neighborís barking bear dogs are the normal background to my keyboard tapping.

House painting, like writing, is one of lifeís tasks that is always better to have done than be doing.

If Iíd had any sense, I would have bought a house made of something practical like bricks, which donít need to be painted and also protect against the huffy-puffy wolves that have disappeared from childrenís literature and are now classified as endangered. Or I could have gone for cheap maintenance and built with mud.

Instead, I live inside a skin of one-inch-thick chestnut boards, which, when nailed together, like going out in public painted as white as a geisha.

Kidding aside, I understand that house painting is both a cost-conscious investment for future benefit as well as a dermatological makeover. Unpainted wood weathers and disintegrates. Eventually.

Brute quantitative analysis suggests that itís cheaper to reside the entire house with permanently unpainted wood every 100 years than to scrape, prime and paint every decade. This cost-benefit option, however, doesnít draw enthusiastic support from a certain resident of my local living room from whose lips the word ďtackyĒ would likely spring were I so rash as to even breathe the notion of a retrofit each century.

Current negotiations in Washington over taxes, budgets and debt are not about a paint job, or even a residing. When youíre borrowing $4 for every $10 youíre spending, you canít continue at that rate. And you certainly canít continue increasing that rate.

The federal government faces the dreaded remodel.

If we donít increase the debt limit, itís anybodyís guess which bills will be paid and which wonít. On August 3rd, according to a July 17th Washington Post story, ďOur mountain of debt,Ē by Neil Irwin, we would have $12 billion in cash and $32 billion in obligations. We could cover just over half of that dayís $23 billion in Social Security checks and nothing else. No defense bills, no Medicare, no education, no federal salaries, no food stamps, no VA programs, no etcetera.

The possibility of defaulting on our countryís notes hangs over these discussions. Interest on our $14-trillion-dollar debt ranges from more than 5 to almost 10 percent of annual federal spending, depending on interest rates.

To cover interest payments of about 7 percent of the current federal budget and avoid default, we could cut Medicare in half, or cut Social Security by one-third, or cut defense by the same or cut everything across the board.

Iím not sympathetic to the Samsons of default among us who want to pull down the temple of the Philistines on top of everyone, including themselves. If we stop paying interest on the debt, most everything will cost more and be worth less. Default would force deeper cuts, raise interest rates all the way around and impede the future economy. It is toxic medicine thatís best left in a tightly stoppered bottle.

Cutting is painful; weíve become accustomed to what is. Raising taxes is painful; weíve become accustomed to what is. The disagreement between the parties seems to boil down to a choice about who should bear most of the pain.

I understand the logic for closing some tax benefits and loopholes, even the ones that help me. They are mainly the product of campaign contributions and high-powered lobbying. Theyíre not sacred. Neither are entitlements.

To promote the economy, I favor lowering the corporate income tax if it is tied to U.S.-based job development through R&D, hiring and expenditures for equipment and facilities.

The economic argument for lowering the capital-gains rate is that it would flush these savings into the economy, which will increase demand for stuff which will increase production and which will mean more employment. Letís give it a try. If we find that these dollars are stashed in mattresses and converted into gold bars, we have, at least, eliminated one idea from future discussion.

The national debate is argued in dollars spent and not spent, dollars raised and not raised, dollars borrowed and not borrowed. But itís really about whatís more important and whatís less, about who pays for what, about what kind of community we are and what kind we will be in the future.

We face a remodeling job, not a tear down and not a paint job. We donít know what it will cost, how long it will take, who will do the heaviest lifting and who might fall through the skylights.

Iím preparing to live with fumes and sawdust for a long time. Remodels are never quick, easy or cheap.

Curtis Seltzer is a land consultant who works with buyers and helps sellers with marketing plans. He is author of How To Be a DIRT-SMART Buyer of Country Property at where his weekly columns are posted. He also writes for

Contact: Curtis Seltzer, Ph.D.
Land Consultant
1467 Wimer Mountain Road
Blue Grass, VA 24413-2307

This original column is provided free for one-time use with author credit at the end. It may be used for background with author credit. Copyright applies.