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Works and Days

How Could We Be So Stupid? Let Us Count the Ways

April 16th, 2010 - 11:55 am

We are going to pile up another $3 trillion in national debt in just the first two years of the Obama administration. If the annual deficit should sink below $1.5 trillion, it will be called fiscal sobriety.

Why, when we owe $12 trillion, would the Obama administration set out budgets that will ensure our collective debt climbs to $20 trillion? Why are we borrowing more money, when Medicare, Social Security, the Postal Service, Amtrak, etc. are all insolvent as it is?

What is the logic behind something so clearly unhinged?

I present seven alternative reasons — some overlapping — why the present government is hell-bent on doubling the national debt in eight years. Either one, or all, or some, or none, of the below explain Obama’s peculiar frenzied spending.

1) Absolutely moral and necessary?

The country is in need of massive more entitlements for our destitute and near to poor. Government is not big, but indeed too small to meet its moral obligations. Deficits are merely record-keeping. Throwing trillions into the economy will also help us all recover, by getting us moving again and inflating the currency. And we can pay the interest easily over the next 50 years. Just think another World War II era — all the time.

So big spending and borrowing are genuine efforts of true believers to make us safe, secure, and happy.

2) “Gorge the beast”

The spending per se is not so important, as the idea of deficits in general will ensure higher taxes. Nationalized health care, cap and trade, new initiatives in education, more stimulus — all that and more is less important than the fact that huge defects will require huge new taxes, primarily from the upper-classes. I see no reason why the total bite from state income, federal income, payroll, and health care taxes cannot soon in theory climb to 70% of some incomes (e.g., 10% state, 15.3% FICA, 40% federal, 3-5% health care). In other words, “redistributive change” is the primary goal. This aim is premised on the notion that income is a construct, if not unfairly calibrated, then at least capriciously determined — requiring the more intelligent in the technocracy to even out things and ensure an equality of result. After all, why should the leisured hedge-funder make all that more after taxes than the more noble waitress?

So big spending and borrowing mean big deficits, and that means taxing the greedy and giving their ill-gotten gains to the needy.

3) Big Brother?

Or does rampant borrowing for government spending reflect our despair over the inability of millions to know what is best for themselves? For democracy to work, all of us must fully participate. But because of endemic racism, sexism, class bias, and historical prejudices, millions of Americans do not have access to adequate education and enlightenment. Therefore, a particular technocratic class, with requisite skill and singular humanity, has taken it upon themselves to ensure everyone gets a fair shake — if only government at last has the adequate resources to fix things. If it proves problematic for one to register and vote, then there will be a program to make 100% participation possible. If some of us are too heavy and too chair-bound, we can be taught what and how to eat. If some of us do not study, we can adjust academic standards accordingly. In one does something unwise, like buying a plasma TV rather than a catastrophic health care plan, then we still can ensure he is covered. In other words, an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-moral guardian class requires resources to finish the promise of participatory America. After all, why would we allow the concrete contractor to “keep” 70% of his income only to blow it on worthless things like jet skis or a Hummer in his garage or a fountain in his yard — when a far wiser, more ethical someone like Van Jones could far more logically put that now wasted capital to use for the betterment of the far more needy?

So big spending and borrowing mean 300 million will have their capital spent wisely as their collective labor and efforts are channeled into proper directions — as determined by sober and curious government overseers, not the ignorant who might selfishly spend capital only for indulgence.

4) Good work if you can get it — and loyal customers for life

I can’t quite figure out why we are to believe that all these government grandees are doing us a public service by “sacrificing”— that is, by going into government. Statistics show that “public service,” with its myriad benefits and pensions, pays far better than comparable work in the private sector. I accept there are lots of mega-millionaire Senators and Representatives for whom politics is an epiphenomenon. But even here the “free everything” and the sense of entitlement and influence are powerful narcotics. In sum, when one exponentially grows government and borrows trillions, one creates a sort of virtual court at Versailles, where hundreds of thousands flock to a GS enclave. Each manager has a sub-manager who has sub-sub managers — like  the descending root system of an old oak. I think that Obama and Co., in part, borrow trillions of dollars to provide prestige and work for hundreds of their Ivy-League cronies, and thousands of loyal bureaucrats, and hundreds of thousands of loyal organizers, and millions of constituent voters — who all might otherwise not have it so good. And all that, of course, requires a lot of money as we presently witness.

So big spending and borrowing mean work for millions, from the Ivy League thinker to the high school drop out who all understand that government is to serve those in government.

5) A Sort of Nihilism

No one really knows the final effect of mega-deficits and staggering debt on a country the size of the U.S. Perhaps inflation is the only mechanism to get out of our “record keeping” dilemma. Deficit promoters, after all, also believe money is a sort of construct, artificially valued and privileged. By printing more money, we simply cheapen the value of that already in existence. Those who don’t have money get some; and those who do, find what they have is worth less. Why protect the capitalist hoarding class, rather than the indigent class in need of money in their pocket?

So big spending and borrowing mean more money for those who don’t have it, and less value for those who do.

6). Infantilism

The Obama administration really doesn’t care much about deficits or debt, in the manner that the profligate credit-card user cannot be bothered about mundane silly things like balancing a checkbook as he shops for vital presents for his family. We must spend what is necessary, and let others worry where the money is to come from. In more practical terms, growing the debt by $1.5 trillion per year is a lot more fun than having to squeeze out surpluses to pay down the existing $12 trillion. We can blame Bush before us for his $200-500 billion annual deficits, and we can blame conservatives after us who must either raise taxes or cut spending in massive fashion to clean things up. Either way, we achieved the progressive agenda in four years, and will leave it to those heartless after us to worry about their accounting games. Our legacy is that we cared for people, not ledgers.

So big spending and borrowing are things for geeks and nerds to worry about later; right now we are doing the right thing for the right people — and can’t be worried.

7). Screw You! — one, big temper tantrum

Nothing makes a conservative madder than higher taxes, bigger government, and more borrowing. Well, we’re in power now; you’re not. Elections matter and you guys lost. In the same manner that should Obama wish to bow — once, twice, three times — he bows, and cares not a lick if Sean Hannity is mad about it, so too Obama borrows and spends, and gets a sort of delight from the right-wing hysteria that follows (cf. his jokes about the reaction to the passage of health care).

(I remember a college dean once who, when his responsible wife warned him at a party at his house about the red wine and the white carpet, turned his glass over and poured it out on the rug, with a sneer, “So there.” [We are either the rug or the housewife of the story.]) Borrowing and spending is a sort of tantrum — all the more delicious, the more angry our adversaries become.

So big spending and borrowing enrage right-wing nuts and that is all to the good.

I went on at length with all these hypotheses, because it is inexplicable how sane people could do such insane things.

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