Monday, April 25, 2011

We Need More Foxes!

Once upon a time, in a tale attributed to Aesop, a monkey walked beside a clever fox. As the pair passed a cemetery, the monkey boasted that the finest tombstones, monuments, and mausoleums had been built to honor his ancestors who were, when alive, free citizens of some renown. In reply, the fox observed that the monkey had chosen wisely when staking his claim because none of the ancestors could object or set the record straight.

Oh, if only there were more foxes among us. Instead we are beset with elephants, buffoons, and asses, all behaving as monkeys, full of bombast and bluster:

• We must do something today to bring down the national debt, to reign in government spending.
• No, we should not raise the debt ceiling even if this causes Wall Street to quake and brings lenders to our shores.
• If these budget constraints cause people to lose their jobs, so be it.
• We can no longer afford to keep our promises to those who have paid into State pension funds, teacher retirement accounts, Social Security, and Medicare.
• We cannot heal the sick, clothe the needy, or feed the hungry.
• We cannot afford to fix our roads--not at this time, during this crisis.
• We cannot afford to catch up with Europe by investing in high-speed rail and wind power in order to free ourselves from our dependency upon oil--not at this time, during this crisis.
• How dare you, sir, suggest that my taxes should pay for someone else’s health care!
• No, nada, nyet. Can’t be done!
• And, oh, by the way, the other guy is to blame.

Where were those nay-sayers and doomsday prophets when the debt began to climb long before 2008 when bundled home loans and usurious interest rates threatened to sink us all, when our debt was 64% of our GDP--before bailouts and stimuli.

Even early in our nation’s history, the United States was deeply, dangerously in debt. The first incident was after the Revolutionary War. The federal government acted quickly to pay off this debt, and as the nation grew, its economy was sound--until the Civil War. Again, at the end of five long, bloody years, the federal government acted to bring down the nation’s indebtedness.

Are you sensing a theme here? Can we afford to make war? The simple and only answer is no. The cost in lives lost and dollars spent to provide every necessary resource to win the war is enormous, unaffordable, a luxury we cannot charge on the credit card. No wonder the Iraq war was “off the books,” not tallied into the budget, until 2010.

During WWII, the debt climbed to 122% of GDP, but celebrities and ordinary citizens bought war bonds to help the nation recover. In other words, we all pulled together--big earners and the little guy--to stabilize this nation, and in 1980, our national debt was 33% of GDP.

The year of 1980 also brought us Reagan, Trickle-down Economics, and the Laffer Curve or as candidate George H. W. Bush called it, Voodoo Economics. Yet, the future 41st President of the United States failed to achieve the nomination, becoming Reagan’s vice-presidential candidate instead and thus, a defender of what he had once called voodoo. As Reagan took office and the Laffer Curve became the model for economic policy, the debt began to rise higher, above 33% to 64% at the end of the 1980s, a decade in which the U. S. did not wage war. This time, this decade, the debt rose because of a shift in thinking: from taxation or bonds to retire our debt by providing revenue to decreased taxation to provide jobs.

The Clinton decade, the 1990s, brought another shift away from tax cuts to a renewed emphasis upon balancing the budget, even at the cost of shutting down government in order to bring about a compromise. The debt percentage of GDP fell 7%, but by 2008, in spite of five years of budget surpluses, we took in .4 trillion dollars less than we spent. We borrowed the rest from other countries or as we have for 30 years, from Social Security funds which have had surpluses all that time.

Let me repeat that fact for you: the federal government used employee and employer Social Security funds for other stuff. They did not save or invest that money for the rainy day when Baby Boomers arrived at retirement’s door. They spent, spent, spent. Now the monkeys cry “Wolf, wolf at the door! Run.” Now the monkeys want you to believe that Social Security is bankrupting this nation, and sadly, there are no foxes with a bark loud enough, a mind critical enough, or a will strong enough to call the monkeys out.

According to I.O.U.S.A, a documentary (for a Byte-Size 30-minute version, see and a resource for the data used in this post, by 2017, Social Security will not be able to pay according to promises made years and payroll deductions long past. Others project that Social Security will remain sound until 2026, nine years further down the road. But let us not panic like little piggies on the other side of a flimsy door standing between us and the wolf. Let us remember that citizens paid in to the system as was their duty. Government failed to keep its hands out of the cookie jar. We must work together to make this right, to honor our promises both foreign and domestic. The wage-earner should not suffer alone as a result.

Yet we cut revenue again in December 2010. Everyone celebrated this compromise as a victory, but what did we actually gain? We gained a peace on earth for all men while Congress is not in session. The elephants stopped jeering at the asses, and the buffoons stopped condemning the elephants and the asses.

Did we gain jobs? No. Did we find our way to bear the cost of promises made? No. Did we make the rich richer and the poor poorer? Yes.

Should we continue to cut revenue and hope that the economy improves? No. Consider the changes in jobs and the economy since trickle-down economics began. Corporate profits have risen and jobs have been created, but most of them are overseas because of the tax advantages and cheaper labor forces outside the United States. The American worker has not seen an improved quality of life. Since 1980, tax cut after tax cut has simply proved that the rich become richer and the poor become poorer.

Some people think that’s grand. Some people believe that capitalism--the rule of the marketplace--the Ayn Randian philosophy--is a god to which we must all bow down. These people wish you well in your endeavors to become wealthy. They celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit, but they usually do not share. They simply look upon the poor, needy and sick beatifically, hoping that the meek will get some spine and work their way out of poverty, need and disease.

I prefer those who have the courage to understand that I and they are but one terminal diagnosis, one colossal Katrina failure in will and insurance, one tsunami, or one misjudgment by the Army Corps of Engineers or GE’s nuclear plant design from poverty, need, and disease. There but for the Grace of a divine and geography go I. There but for the Grace of a divine and geography go they.

All that I possess is a fox-like capacity for critical thinking. All that I gain from critical thinking is empathy, and that, I believe, is worth more than wealth. I also gain a willingness to work with rich and poor in order to solve the debt crisis. Won’t you join me? Perhaps we should all buy bonds again. Are there any celebrities who will lead the way? George Clooney, where do you stand? I think you’re with us. Can you gather your resources, make those phone calls, and lead us? Our elected officials are surely not.