Deficit Reduction Ethics: We’re All Selfish Dunces, and We’ll Be Sorry

President Obama’s bi-partisan commission on cutting the deficit has come up with its draft recommendations, and they are fair, balanced, obvious, and, inevitably and unavoidably, flawed. Despite the flaws, everybody gets hurt, as everyone deserves to be when we elect a series of profligate and irresponsible leaders who spend more money than the nation has, on too many dubious projects and policies.

Personally, it would kill my already struggling personal finances dead: I’d have to sell my house, for one thing, at a lower value than it has now. Are the recommendations perfect? Surely not. They address the problem, however, and it is a problem that 1) has to be addressed 2) has to be addressed quickly and 3) will never, ever be addressed sufficiently if left to the usual corrupt legislative process, where it will sliced to pieces by lobbyists and turned into more pork, more lies, and another 3000 page bill that nobody reads before voting on it.

If Americans were responsible, honest, fair and genuinely concerned about America’s future prosperity and strength, we would just buckle down take deep breaths, and agree to make the sacrifices necessary to put the nation back on the road to fiscal health. But we won’t, will we? We will measure every sacrifice by what the other guy is giving up, and protest that our own sacrifice is disproportionately burdensome. Seniors will cry that they had  a “commitment” from the government, and won’t give up any part of social security, or agree to be taxed on it, even if they are well-off and secure. Homeowners will protest; the young will see a future with fewer safety nets. Government employees will feel put upon. What? Less deductions for dependent kids? What? Weakening our defense? What? Selling off a National Park? What? Raising the tax on gasoline? What? Letting Sesame Street go over to Disney? And on and on.

Yet when past threats to our way of life and ideals have demanded personal sacrifices to preserve America’s strength, survival, and its profound influence for good on the world, men and women have been willing to give up, not just creature comforts and security, but their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The contrast between this fact and our current failure of will, accountability and responsibility demonstrates either deplorable historical ignorance or a shocking deterioration of the fortitude, maturity, character and patriotism of Americans. Or both.

Yesterday, I heard radio talk show hosts Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, prophets of the Right, declare the Commission’s recommendations a Left wing conspiracy to embed big government and socialist policies in the United States forever. Today, I read the Left’s darling economist, Paul Krugman, declare that the exact same Commission has been hi-jacked by Right wing ideologues, and its recommendations are in fact a prescription for the helping the wealthy at the expense of the poor and middle class.

Faced with such astounding bias and distrust, what hope do we have? Where is courage? Where is reason? Who do we trust? A leader who had built his credibility and reputation for even-handedness, fairness, and bi-partisanship as well as wise decisions and political courage could overcome such obstacles. We do not have such a leader, however, though we were promised one. Or the public itself could accept the challenge, tell the Limbaughs and the Krugmans to shut up, and instead place political pressure on our feckless elected representatives to do what is necessary, promising that it would not be the sacrifices we would hold then accountable for at the polls, but inaction.

I can dream. But this won’t happen either.

Ethics requires making the health of society a primary goal, and we have allowed our culture to go far too long without seriously examining what that means. Now we are a nation of ethics dunces, being led by cowards, being advised by biased fools.

Ethics often hurts, and a society that refuses to accept any pain can no longer be ethical, responsible, or even viable. At this point, we are not appreciably different from the Greeks rioting because their pensions and public employee salaries were cut to keep the country out of default, or the French striking because they can’t retire at 60 any more.

Americans have always believed they were exceptional, and this is an opportunity to prove it.  I doubt that we have either the leadership or the national character to do that any more.

I hope I’m wrong.

One thought on “Deficit Reduction Ethics: We’re All Selfish Dunces, and We’ll Be Sorry

  1. A rant.

    Let me beat a dead horse here for a minute. We Americans have become a bunch of lazy slobs. Not necessarily in our own lives, our businesses, our families, our plans for the future.

    No, just (?) in our participation in our Republic. We are NOT an informed electorate. We vote either a straight party ticket, or for the last charlatan we saw an ad for on the television. In Northern Virginia, for example, Jim Moran — dishonest, a dissembler, a user, a man who took advantage of his position to obtain $500,000 in unsecured loans from a bank who had legislation up for a vote, e.g. — gets voted back in over and over and over again. Why? His name is familiar. No one in my jurisdiction BOTHERS to find out what he’s done, what he’s doing, who he is. THIS IS OUR FAULT. He remains in Congress because the voters in his jurisdiction are lazy, lazy, lazy. Or they are such Democratic ideologues that they decide to overlook his unethical and almost criminal behavior to have one more Democrat in Congress? For shame.

    This is not what our Founders envisioned.

    I have told people that the “Get Out the Vote” campaign is a big scam. If you don’t know who you’re voting for, then do the country a favor and just don’t vote. It does no one, and certainly not the country, any favors.

    Re the deficit and possible remedial actions. No one talks about the deficit in terms of the trade imbalance. China is up and coming: yes, as a totalitarian state, a la the Third Reich. (THEY sure made a lot of progress in a short period of time. But at what price? Chamberlain notwithstanding, we all found out later…) But we are debtors to China and can’t upset that precious balance.

    Our trade imbalance with Japan is tremendous also. But no one discusses the fact that Japan won’t allow us to sell our rice to them, even though they need it. No one discusses the fact that Japan puts such enormous excise taxes on American cars that one one can afford them there (while we place no excise tax on Japanese cars, and they’ve been smart enough to begin producing them here. But make no mistake, the big bucks go back to Japan). No one discusses the fact that Japan colluded for 15 years to undersell our own electronics industry so they could eventually take it over — which they did. (Illegal here, but not there.)

    That is all history: but some kind of parity with Japan and other countries would help our bottom line. Our leaders are too timid to even broach the subject. We don’t owe Japan a thing: after all, we rebuilt them after World War II, and if it weren’t for us they’d still be making little umbrellas for our tropical drinks. (Do your own research and see how the average middle class manager and his family lives in Japan… A family of 4 in an 800 square foot apartment… etc.) They just don’t have the population with the cash for their goods. They need our market, badly. That’s a place to start negotiations, I would think.

    China is touchier because we owe them money. But I am sick to death of hearing of China’s “ascendancy” when it is a totalitarian state and most of what we buy from China is made by slave labor. This is a good ally, and one who should be our “banker?” I’d pick Saudi Arabia first…

    Bottom line on this part: Parity in trade would help our bottom line, but not one leader will discuss that. Not one. Why not? There has to be a way to begin negotiations with a number of countries on this aspect of our trade deficit.

    When it comes to we Americans, look back to World War II, when goods were rationed, people saved tin foil, couldn’t buy tires, etc. We are fighting two wars now, and no one seems affected. Why not? These are our wars, too. Reducing the deficit should be our third (or first) front. I have a 16 year old, and regardless of the inheritance he may receive from his grandparents, I shudder to think about the world he will inherit from the Baby Boomers. And we have no one to blame by ourselves.

    When legislators talk about cuts in entitlements we all blanch… Horrors! You can’t hurt the little guy or the retired… But what do you think is the biggest entitlement of all? The mortgage interest deduction. Willing to give that up in the name of national financial freedom? Or part of it? Maybe part of it, but I doubt many would be. It’s been part of the game since the post WWII building boom, and part of the tax game as well. Think about it. Might you buy a smaller house if you didn’t get that whopping deduction? Even if your kids reached adulthood with a healthier economy?

    As individuals we have little power. As a group, we have enormous power. Witness the mid-term elections. But now the real work should begin — for us. Congressmen should be held accountable. Every step of the way. We need to make our priorities known. They all need to know they have two years only to make appreciable progress in the right direction. That we are willing to make sacrifices — if they DON’T mean more bail-outs for Wall Street firms giving multi-millions in bonuses this year.

    That’s it. I’m tired. I have hope, but not much.

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