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March 29, 2011

DOOM! is a choice, not a destiny

The optimists will say that there is no real debt problem at the federal and state level, that everything will work out fine. The public-sector pension and healthcare bomb is just a scare-tactic on the part of Republicans to score political points, they say. The federal government cannot go out of business, they say; neither can the states. Therefore, you cannot treat sovereign risk the same way you do that of private companies. It's virtually a certainty that all public debts will be repaid.

But then there are the dissenters (like me) who point out that sovereign states can and do go out of business all the time. Just read a history book. And this quite often occurs not because of invasion or plague, but due to internal factors like debt, debasement of the currency, and a failure of the economy to provide for the citizenry.

As the monk Cadfael often says in Ellis Peters' wonderful books, "Under the certainty of Heaven, nothing is certain".

The question that faces us as a nation now, really, is one of risk. Democrats (and even some Republicans) seem to think that we live in a "low to moderate risk" financial environment; the Tea Partiers, libertarians, many GOP freshmen, and me all think that we are living in a "moderate to high risk" environment. Our argument with each other is based less on dollars and cents than it is on questions of sustainability, viability, and funding -- particularly funding of our colossal welfare-state.

Many of us feel that the optimists are engaging in magical thinking -- that because we are the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, that this somehow insulates us from the more mundane realities that every other nation must deal with. Yet we only have to look to the cousins in England to find the answer to that fallacy: they were the mightiest empire the world had ever seen as recently as the 1880's. Now they are just another pauperized nation with an unsustainable welfare-state, a restive population, and no clear way forward out of the jam they find themselves in. How astonished a British subject of 1800 would have been to visit his country only two centuries later!

America may yet have its best days before it...if we act now to prevent this fiscal disaster from ruining us, and fracturing us into endlessly-arguing and bitter camps. E Pluribus Unum requires work and dedication; it won't just happen all by itself. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and right now we have two groups of people with very diametrically-opposed visions of what America is, and what it will be in the years ahead.

Nothing lasts forever -- not men, not institutions, not buildings or monuments. Even stones wear away in time. Nothing is forever. We would do well as a nation to remember that.

(Some NSFW language in this video.)

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posted by Monty at 10:33 AM

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