The Other I

July 31, 2011

Armageddon delayed?

The news at the moment is that it looks as if a compromise has been reached on raising the US debt ceiling which will get through both Houses of Congress.  As of this writing, there should be a vote in about three hours.

Even assuming that this is not yet another compromise that falls through this doesn’t solve the problem.

But it may give us  a chance to look at the very hard choices we have to make and to discuss the issues rationally.

As I see it, the first question we need to address is whether now is the time to implement drastic cuts to government spending or whether we should concentrate on stimulating the economy sufficiently to get the economy rolling again before we start paying off what is, admittedly, an unsustainable debt in the long-term.

I think this is the easy question to answer.  The U.S. economy has slowed down much more than anyone realized and history suggests that cutting right now could slow the entire horse and cart even further.  If we can wait a year or two to implement cuts, there should be more tax revenues coming in to support them.

But we do need a credible mid-term plan to start cutting.  Already the markets are suggesting that the U.S. is going to lose is triple-A rating without one.  And there is no reason why we shouldn’t be working on it today.

And that is where we come to the hard part.  The Republicans want less government, less regulation, and less taxation to free the private sector to increase productivity and innovation.  I strongly suggest they have a point.  Over-regulation by a nanny government that knows best is unbelievably suffocating.  Communist Russia is a prime example, but unfortunately over-regulation and government intervention has not been defeated with the fall of the Soviet Union.  It is alive and well throughout the world.

So as I see it, the Republicans are not just corporate fat cats or Tea Party fanatics and bigots who can’t be bothered to learn anything about economics before imposing their views on the entire nation.

On the other hand, the Democrats believe the role of government needs to be increased.  Our population is ageing, we cannot remain competitive in the world without improving our educational systems, our road and utility infrastructures need upgrading badly, we are damaging the environment possibly catastrophically,  health care costs are running riotously out of control.  They want to increase taxes and government spending to tackle these problems.

And we the American electorate?  what do we want?

Unfortunately right now we want everything.  We want tax increases limited to the irritatingly rich who can afford it anyway, employment increased, and our benefits untouched.

We can’t have it all.  With the next election, we are going to have to decide.

By then the lay of the land may have changed.  The euro, which probably reflects an even bigger crisis than America’s, may have imploded with implications that are beyond even the experts to predict.  China’s economy may have slowed down.  The price of food and oil may have sky-rocketed.   Or another war may be devastating the lives of tens of millions of people.  Who knows what state the American economy will be in by the election at the end of 2012.

But maybe – with our backs to the wall – the human species will come up with a disruptive technology that replaces oil.  Or that can grow food with a third of the water currently required by most crops and animals.  Or maybe we will rally behind a political leader who can convince us that his or her plan is worth fighting for.  A country isn’t given a lot of leaders like that.  I hope if there is, that we’ll recognize it.

Okay, I’ll stop venting.  It’s not, I know, that I have a lot of light to cast onto the problem.  Really, what I’m trying to work out is how to deal with all this in my own life.  Not in terms of personal finances – though that could become a concern if things got bad enough.  But to try to live with some equilibrium, some peace and joy and gratitude, in the face of this kind of confusion and real injustice.

I finally do understand how it was that people were dancing even as war was breaking out.  It always seemed so self-indulgent to me in the past.

Now I see it as a determination to grab life with both hands and to live it to the full.

Whatever is in the cup.

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