Friday, February 19, 2010

Debt Politics

It is troubling to recognize that humans may be so constituted that we will pursue a course of action, knowing full well that it will lead to destruction, detesting that destruction, and yet moving all the closer to that destruction year after year.

It's like a moth who knows that the light ahead of him is a flame, is in a state of despirate panic over the fact that he does not want to burn to death, and yet who flies into the flame anyway.

This hypothetical moth's relationship to that flame is like America's relationship to its national debt. The debt that we are accumulating could destroy us as a country, and cause widespread misery among its individual citizens. Yet, we keep running up more and more debt, and refuse to take the necessary steps to reduce it.

(See: NYT: Party gridlock in D.C. feeds fear of debt crisis )

First, a caveat is in order. Economists seem to be in universal agreement that deficit spending is currently necessary to avoid an economic collapse. However, the morally and fiscally responsible course of action that any individual or country should take is to save for a rainy day.

A person or family that runs up huge debts when all is going well is putting themselves in a particularly tight bind when things go poorly. If they lose a substantial portion of their income, they not only have to worry about the fact that they cannot continue to spend money the way they had been spending it. They have to worry about the debt that simply does not go away.

The same is true of a country, which should be running budget surpluses when the economy is going well, so that it has the financial elbow room it needs to run deficits when times are hard.

However, fiscal responsibility is not seen as much of a virtue these days - not on the part of individuals, or on the part of countries.

Then we throw in another human trait which makes the situation even worse. It is always somebody else's fault. People around the country are angry at the government for getting us into this financial mess.

How did those people get into government to start with?

Well, the people elected them. These are people who demand that those who give them more and more while taking less and less. The government did what the people told it to do. The government will continue to do what the people tell them to do unless and until we end democracy in this country. Which means that we are responsible for this mess, not the government.

It is quite easy to understand what the politicians are doing. It is buying votes. It is giving government benefits and lowering taxes on those who have the power to vote, and it is taking that money from those who have no political power and who do not vote - generations that do not yet exist or have not reached voting age.

Future generations have absolutely no power to organize to throw a current politician out of office. They cannot form political action committees to run advertisements that promote policies that better secure their interests and their welfare. They are politically impotent. So, politicians are free to impose greater and greater burdens on them without any fear of suffering any political fallout.

A politician who is not willing to rob from the politically impotent in order to buy the votes of the politically potent is quite simply a politician who does not get enough votes to get elected. We have a system that guarantees that elected offices will be held by those who are more than willing to sacrifice our children to our benefit.

The only way that this will change is if we learn to care enough about our children's benefit that there are, in fact, averse political consequences to sacrificing our children. The only way that this will

If we cannot push these people into the political frings, and do so quickly, we have serious political and economic problems ahead of us.

Remember, this is an election year.


Anonymous said...

You're absolutely correct. Our dept is outrageous, and our attraction to spending is nearly as great -- this will lead us towards an unfavorable future.
The Atheist Perspective

anton said...

Many years ago I was astonished that our company president, after instituting disasterous financial polisies that all but ruind the corporation, became the financial advisor to the Republican President of the United States back in the 70s. He had also ruined his previous "employer". And yet, he was hailed as an American Icon in the school of deficit financing. The die was cast many, many decades ago despite all the protestations of the current party leaders.

US Americans just don't want to know the truth . . . and those that do, can no longer do anything to fix the problem . . . except make certain that their children and grandchildren learn to speak Chinese.

Luke said...

I believe you were talking about this earlier: