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Works and Days

The New Commandments on the Barn Wall

February 18th, 2012 - 4:53 pm

Ten Commandments for Our New Century

If you think our quiet lives of desperation can sometimes become a bit much, relax. Here are some guidelines to soothe your frustration — a few commandments that make sense out of today’s nonsense.

1) Wealth and poverty are now more relative, than absolute, conditions. The ancient idea of the limited good once again rules. Someone who has more, by definition, took unfairly more from someone else with less, one who nobly chose not to do that in turn to others. Fairness, not poverty, is our national obsession. My 48-inch screen television gets wonderful reception and offers sharp quality, but only if I know that someone else does not (and should not) have a 52-inch screen. I liked my Accord until I found out “he” parked a BMW next to me. But at least I can console myself that I choose not to do the sort of things that the BMW owner succumbed to. As is true in every peasant-minded society, wealth is as collectively scorned as it is privately lusted after.

2) Regulators are never the problem; a dearth of regulations always must be. If a teacher is at fault, a train operator sleeps, or a Wall Streeter loots, it is never because an administrator was lax, a supervisor chose to overlook drug use, or an auditor was incompetent. Instead, the common culprit was that we did not have enough laws. If Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank did not preclude the career of a Jon Corzine, then we need far stronger statutes than both. If a gun is smuggled by ten idling TSA operators, then we need more and better full-body X-ray scanners. There are lots of odd mentalities at work here: the more poorly educated and inept are our regulators, the more we turn to regulations per se to make up the deficiencies — guaranteeing even more so that the regulators cannot wade through the accruing paperwork. While it is considered illiberal to fault employees as incompetent, it is considered very liberal to cite the shocking absence of yet another law.

3) Debt is a mirage. Borrowing right now has no connection with repaying eons later. At some future date, inflation, debt reduction, write-down, higher taxes on “them,” growing the economy, a computer meltdown, those not born, a few “fat cats,” or a German will somehow step in to erase what is owed — some $16 trillion in collective debt. Borrowing and spending win friends and foster admiration; cutting and repaying alienate and earn antipathy. Do we adore more the politician who enacts another entitlement with someone else’s money than we do hate the curmudgeon who wants to see how it is paid for? Close call. Just as a billion in 2009 instantly became a trillion, then why cannot a trillion in 2012 likewise become a zillion? What do a few zeros matter anyway?

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