Thursday, November 10, 2005

Fiddling While Rome Burns

Reading history has the unusual effect, at least on me, of making one imagine just what it must have been like to see your civilization die. I'm not too concerned about the prospect of America one day not being in charge, although we'll have a lot of adjusting to do, but we should all take a moment to consider -- just as the Romans had to watch the Goths streaming over that last hill, we're watching Bush spend us into indefinite future poverty. It's not even a political issue any more; it's the motions of fate and circumstance. We owe so much money that the Comptroller General of the United States, David Walker at the GAO, says the situation is "spiraling out of control." And he's paid to have the world's most boring job, so I don't think he's prone to flights of rhetorical fancy. The important stuff:

Unfortunately, there is no question that both U.S. government spending and tax cuts are spiraling out of control. Recent increases in federal budget deficits have far outpaced the cost of the global war on terrorism and incremental homeland security costs.

When he says "far outpaced," what he's really saying is "outpaced beyond our capacity to return to the status quo." Bush has borrowed us into a chasm from which it will be very difficult to recover unless a) taxes are raised; b) spending is cut (although not in the ways Republicans have recently proposed, such as cutting welfare benefits again); and c) we start paying down our foreign debt. What's interesting is that Bush espouses National Greatness conservatism, in capital letters, and his supporters believe they are upholding America's greatness, while in a sad way they are helping throw fuel on the fire of America's demise. They strut their stuff about patriotism, but when you look at what Bush has done (links here, here and here give you some idea), he may very well have opened the walls to the barbarians -- metaphorically, of course.

On a related topic, I once had an odd and heated debate with my eighth-grade science teacher about whether the "deficit" really exists or is just an accounting gimmick. He was arguing that the deficit is based on the difference between whatever Congress allots itself for the year and what it ends up spending in that year, and as such is nothing more than a meaningless number, since we end up spending the money whether we allotted it or not. I was saying, as it turns out correctly, that the yearly deficit is the amount of money we borrowed for discretionary spending for that year, i.e. money the government will have to pay back with interest. When you believe something as outside-the-ballpark false as he did, you end up voting for the guy who promises tax cuts because you don't think money really means anything. And then you're screwed, sorta like we are.


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