Friday, 05 August 2011 00:00
The joke isn’t funny anymore. No one is laughing. Resignation is setting in around the financial world. Trying to sleep, listening late into the night to the international financial news, the markets in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and around Asia are “jittery” about the “American crisis.” A BBC analyst insists that things will not be so bad because “we have been repeatedly assured that bondholders will be paid no matter what.” Another says that “this could be a Lehman Brothers moment for the global economy.” We’re in uncharted territory here. Perception is a large part of the international financial relationships that make and break countries, and right now the perception is that our federal government has been pushed off the rails by some elected officials who do not know how to play well with others.
It’s probably due to poor socialization. Little children are supposed to be taught that throwing tantrums or holding their breath until they get everything their way won’t work. In civilized society we all give up a little of what we want so that we all have a reasonable chance to do okay. We all provide the means for some to make it big, and they pay back their fair share. This was the American social compact, reflecting the famous American sense of opportunity and fair play. National efforts to reduce poverty and grow the Middle Class weren’t merely fair; they made economic sense and increased our mutual abundance.
We are now being instructed by both parties to see those great national efforts as somehow misguided or injurious to our commonwealth.
Last year, when the Fort Worth Public Library unveiled new logos and other marketing materials, they removed the word “Public” from the library’s name. They felt it sent the wrong message. This is where we are.
A public being taught to disdain all things public and to root for the great against the great against the powerless will root for Mr. Potter against George Bailey, for Taylor against Senator Smith, every time.
During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy urged his top people to read Barbara Tuckman’s book, The Guns of August. The book (still available in more than two dozen Nassau County public libraries) is about the folly of European leaders who in late July and early August of 1914, outsmarted each other onto a brink from which they suddenly could no longer pull back without losing face. Over the course of just a few days, they transformed a crisis into a war into a cataclysm that nobody wanted or had foreseen.
Now we have another folly. We are about to suck trillions of dollars in spending out of a weakened economy, almost entirely from Middle Class Americans. We are doing this as hard statistics pour in from the United Kingdom’s austerity program. Instead of the 2.6 percent growth in Gross Domestic Product promised to the British people, GDP has dropped by 0.2 percent. Now even harsher cuts are coming. This is the model our leaders are following. The President, the one national figure in a good position to educate and persuade Americans en masse about a better vision and a better way to go, is continually content appearing to be a more reasonable version of adversaries who have no practical interest in being reasonable.
Our leaders have outsmarted everybody. Too smart for me. Remind me again how Democrats were so crafty in not raising the debt ceiling last December, when this outcome was already being threatened.
Consumer spending and consumer confidence drives the American economy, and we are going to reduce both.
Somehow, we will get through this. Things will be different, but we will move on. The world is already starting to move on, past the American Era. A few days ago, Russia launched a new telescope into orbit that has a resolution 10,000 times that of our Hubble Telescope. It was launched days after the shuttering of America’s space program. Too expensive.
See you on the other side.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org