They say, nothing is certain but death and taxes. I’d add to that spending! The current haggling over spending, taxes, and the debt problems this country faces is an interesting example of the ‘blind spot‘. In the arguments I hear, each side fails to step back enough to see the problem broadly. I know that’s how nature intends it; competitive interaction fleshes out fitness and all that. Still, it helps to pull-head-out-of-sand to see where we may be headed.
First watch this 60 Minute segment on the Corporate Tax Rate dealing with one aspect of this issue (1). It hints at why the old paradigm doesn’t work well in a global market place.
Alas, our politicians still operate from a point of view that is not only fanciful, but now dangerously obsolete. One reason is that America people and politicians have long seen this country as the “leader of the free world” and “the best country the earth have ever seen”. Such a self-centric view, shared by both left and right, only exasperates the blind spot problem.
I find that framing this issue in another context helps. The body is confronted with a analogous ‘debt problem’. Indeed, the fundamentals are the same. Note, I’m relying on old memory which I’m too lazy at the moment to brush up on, so forgive any minor technical lapses.
With Debt, Lactic Acid Builds Up
When the body works vigorously beyond a certain point, it builds up an oxygen deficit. Like the government and money, there’s not enough oxygen to run a balanced metabolic budget. Metabolism shift to anaerobic processes to keep muscle working as long as it can. Government pulls off a similar thing by printing more money, borrowing on itself, and so on. The metabolic debt produces toxins which you feel the next day as aching muscles. Likewise with any national debt, the pain comes in various ways: inflation, war, revolution, poverty, collapsing economy. In short: There are no free lunches in nature.
Clearly, if you want to get more work out of your body, you must exercise regularly to build the fine blood vessels that can then deliver enough oxygen during those times of increasing demand. Similarly if the people want government to do more, they’d be wise to first build up the necessary resources. Our current folly lies in the widespread unwillingness to adequately prepare, and yet we still expect widespread benefits to continue. Clearly the population/politicians as a whole are unwilling to bite the bullet and prepare (like adopt a rational tax code as the rest of the world has). With head placed firmly in sand, the populace/politicians say “don’t touch my Medicare or Social Security”.
Solving the Debt Problem Naturally
In the body’s case, the wise thing to do is give enough time and effort to build the physical resources necessary to meet the demands. To always demand extra from your body, and later pay with pain, or worse, heart attack and death, is utterly shortsighted and childish. First ask, is the stress you expect your body to labor under truly ‘righteous and just’? If so, then it is better to stop in time and prepare it adequately before demanding more from it: Rather than fill it to the brim by keeping it upright, better to have stopped in time.
The most practical, natural approach to our budgetary problems is to stop sucking up all the oxygen. Like they say, “When you realize you’re in a hole, stop digging”. Likewise, the wiser way to get out of debt is to first stop spending. Then, build up the resources needed for desired expenditures. This is how it is done throughout nature in a strictly pay-as-you-go kind of way. Modern economics has found clever short-sighted ways to get away without paying up front. Sure, having those in authority eating up too much in taxes is disastrous. However, spending more than you have is perhaps even worse. Simply put, nothing could be more out of natural balance than spending more than you earn.
Need + Thinking = Desires and Blind Spots
I see both parties to this debate are driven by emotion to do the ‘right thing’. The conservative side, at least theoretically, is more in line with nature: earn before you spend, they preach (alas, words are cheap). The liberal side is so bent upon doing the ‘right thing’ for the poor, the kids, the elderly, that it fails to see the core necessity of ceasing to spend first. They are bent on solving the problem by raising taxes in a country where the majority of the population is against raising taxes (yet ironically expecting more benefits). Like the tax code and numerous other inconsistencies we see in culture generally, this is completely irrational. But there are no short cuts in nature. Spending what the majority are not willing to pay for up-front is doomed in the long run (i.e., short term pleasure leads to long term pain).
Yet, all this is natural. After all, we only think we are a rational and ‘sapient’ species. Our behavior shows we are plainly animals that may have merely evolved too much for our own good (not on purpose of course!). First Mother Nature tried out the big body-small brain model with the dinosaurs. Now she’s trying out the big brain-small body model in our species… and the blind spot is an unintended consequence. Of course, with evolution every consequence is unintended, isn’t it? That’s what makes life so fascinating. Only time will tell how it all turns out.
(1) Fareed Zakaria’s GPS (Global Public Square) presents superb in-depth coverage of the most important of current affairs. His interview with James Baker on Americas Budget and Foreign Policy sheds more light on this whole ‘mess’.