Let me apologize in advance for using the name of a recently deceased
young woman as a descriptor of our economic problems. But I mean no disrespect
for Amy Winehouse. On the contrary, my disrespect is aimed at those responsible
for wrecking our economic system to the point that the only options remaining
are rehab or premature death.
Beautiful, talented, wealthy Amy Winehouse was found dead at age 27,
joining such music personalities as Janis Joplin,
Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Jim Morrison – all members of the "27 Club."
Autopsy is pending, though the cause of death is hardly obscure. For years, the
multiple award-winning singer and songwriter had been in and out of rehab for
alcohol and drug abuse. The night before her death, reportedly she bought
cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, and ketamine. Prophetically, her last album was
titled "Back to Black."
Books, articles, and films have attempted to explain why
talented, successful people in the music business so often descend into a death
spiral of alcohol and drugs. One can speculate that their fans almost expect it.
One can moralize that the music business and the drug business are intimately
related. But that is not our subject here.
Our purpose is to discover how supposedly sober, dull
bankers can become so involved with irresponsible, careerist politicians that a
similar death spiral results – not of alcohol and drugs, but of runaway
spending, oppressive taxation, and unsustainable debt.
Music people are surrounded by adoring fans, flashing
strobes, and blaring sounds. Alcohol and drugs are everywhere. The wonder is
not that so many succumb, but that so many do not, and go on to live relatively
normal lives. Rather than an insult to music people, this is an insult to
bankers and politicians. In boring boardrooms and yawn-inducing political
meetings, they manage to act as recklessly as do musicians in the much more
exciting surroundings of rock concerts and clubs.
These people were trained in political science, business,
and economics, interesting but hardly thrilling courses of study. They had no
outlet for their creativity in art, music or other truly creative fields, so
they channeled their creativity into areas where it was inappropriate, if not
This brings up an interesting question: Why do we have so
few great novels, great paintings, or great musical compositions? Is it because
too many creative people are going into business, banking, and politics? Do
they misuse their creativity by producing fictional quarterly reports,
imaginary banking manipulations, and illusory political moves? Will the
Pulitzer Prize for fiction go to a financial statement? Surely the Social
Security "Trust Fund" deserves consideration. You would have to go to science
fiction to find something that implausible and invented. (Scotty, beam me up,
there are no honest life-forms here.)
And these people pervert
the English language and invent deceptive terminology to conceal their
shenanigans. We now call wasteful government spending "investment." We now call
raising taxes "spending cuts" or "reducing tax expenditures." We now call
eliminating the deductions for charitable contributions or home mortgage
payments "broadening the base." George Orwell, move over. Our government
officials put Big Brother and Newspeak to shame. Or rather, they put all of us
to shame – for tolerating their misbehavior this long.
How can legitimate politicians reach agreements with people
who use language as an octopus uses ink – to conceal and deceive? When they are
with colleagues, do they speak frankly, and laugh at us ignorant fools? At
least this way, they can communicate among themselves. Or have they become so
addicted to phony terminology that it affects their thinking, and they actually
believe what they say? In that case, there is little hope of a real compromise.
If I say "spending cuts" and mean spending cuts, but they say "spending cuts"
and mean tax hikes, how can we communicate, much less reach agreement?
In the film "Patton," the general delivers a particularly
bombastic address to his troops. His aide remarks, "General, sometimes the men
don’t know when you’re acting." Patton replies, "It’s not important for them to
know – it’s only important for me to know." Patton was a superb commander who
recognized the potentially fatal danger of deceiving himself. Do you believe
that our current politicians, including our president, recognize this danger?
Or are they so caught up in their fantasy world of "tax, spend, borrow, elect"
that they no longer are able recognize reality? I fear that the latter is true.
But what’s really odd is that supposedly intelligent pundits
claim that our credit rating may be reduced not because we are borrowing too
much, but because of the delay in raising the borrowing limit. This is like
claiming that you can improve your credit rating not by paying down your debts,
but by borrowing even more. If this absurd idea wouldn’t work in personal life,
why would it work in national life? A person, or a nation, addicted to
ever-increasing borrowing will eventually discover that no one is willing to
loan another dollar to such a deadbeat.
The pundits claim that the problem is not our addiction to
spending borrowed money, but our current difficulty in borrowing even more.
This is like claiming that a drug addict’s problem is not the addiction, but
the difficulty in finding a reliable supplier.
Amy Winehouse was unable, or unwilling, to break her
addiction to alcohol and drugs. Eventually it killed her. She died far too
soon. She could not escape from the drug dealers, who promised instant
gratification but delivered slow death. If we are unable, or unwilling, to
break our addiction to profligate spending and ballooning debt, our nation will
die far too soon. We must escape from the political charlatans, who promise
instant gratification but deliver slow bankruptcy – both economic and moral.
The death of any human being is tragic. The death of a
vibrant, productive, previously healthy human being is doubly tragic. The death
of a vibrant, productive, previously healthy nation would be indescribably tragic.
It would also be unforgivable, because it is entirely preventable. But if we
don’t change our ways, it’s only a matter of time.