Editor's Column: Avoiding adding another $150 to the national debt

A wood stove is one of those things I’ve always wanted but not quite enough to purchase, but this year the government has made it a difficult thing to avoid.

In order to promote clean energy and alternative fuels, the government decided to give tax credits to an array of home energy-saving products, including wood stoves. There appeared to be no actual effort to emphasize clean energy because wood as a fuel makes half the neighborhoods on Whidbey Island look and smell like London, circa 1890, except with a scent a bit more like wood and little less like coal. On a still night, one ventures outdoors only with a flashlight and white cane, comfortable that when one’s nightly walk is finished, one will go to bed smelling like a hot dog burnt over an open flame.

That, in fact, is my primary motivation for dreaming of a wood stove: Revenge against my neighbors. I want to contribute to all that smoke, not just complain about it. I want to start a fire, run outside and giggle as the smoke drifts out and down in all directions, coming to rest on houses that for years have sent smoke my way, with none coming their way in return. I’ve contemplated skipping the wood part entirely and just tossing a few leftover Independence Day smoke bombs into the stove and slamming the door shut. Then I could watch colored smoke, deep blue or red, pour from the chimney, and people would know exactly whose smoke is making them choke and wheeze and begin to understand why some islanders winter in Arizona.

Occasionally I will visit a wood stove dealer, often during the Island County Fair. This year they were pitching the federal energy tax credit, which as I understood it would save me about $150 on a little stove costing about $1,000. Uncle Sam would simply forgive $150 in taxes if I would buy a wood stove. Imagine that, government money thrown my way without me having to do a thing to earn it. Now I know how Congress people feel, or bankers, or insurance executives.

Unfortunately, it just didn’t feel right. I looked around at all the other people on the fairgrounds and wondered why they should help me purchase a wood stove. Even if Congress borrowed the money from China for this particular inane government program, eventually it would have to be paid back by my fellow Americans walking around eating corn dogs and inspecting ducks at the 4-H barn. It would cost 150 of them $1 each, except their grandchildren, not them, would ultimately end up paying for part of my wood stove, by which time it would cost 150 grown grandchildren $7 each for that stove purchased way back in 2010 thanks to the magic of compound interest. The Chinese would still be at the bank, laughing.

As a matter of principle, I couldn’t accept the government’s help in buying a polluting wood stove, so I’ll keep the national debt from increasing by another $150 and wait another year. The tax credit expires in January, but I doubt that Congress will let it alone. Next year, I’ll probably be forced to buy a wood stove, with government help, of course.

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