Kabuki Theater

As pretty much everyone in the entire world knows, the US government has come out of its “shutdown” and has suspended the debt ceiling–in other words, the debt ceiling might as well not exist until early February. (Side note: While I’m not a fan of raising the debt ceiling, I’ve come to the conclusion that having one is a terrible, terrible idea, as it allows for far too much gamesmanship, preening, and hypocrisy around fiscal responsibility. Let’s just get rid of the thing and admit that we’re going to borrow ’til we can’t find anyone willing to lend us money.)

Here’s the thing: everyone was panicking and freaking out about things like “government default” and whatnot, talking about all the horrible consequences of such an event while forgetting this: It was never going to happen. To begin with, the US gov’t will stop paying the IRS before before it stops paying its debts.  Furthermore, remember that the top priority for the supermajority of folks in Congress is keeping their jobs–they’re not going to do anything to jeopardize that. Putting the nation in a place where default is likely (likely, not certain) is on the list of things that jeopardizes one’s political career.

This entire thing was a flagrant political kabuki play, as Democrats got to talk tough about opposing Republican hostage taking while Tea Party Republicans got to do the same thing about Obamacare’s destroying the American economy. (Side note: The amount of glitches involved in Obamacare enrollment is awe-inspiring, especially the part where premiums are going up for people. Wait, I forgot, that’s a feature, not a bug.)

Lots of shuffling and dancing about, never talking about the substantive issues, like the fact that we have a system that is on the verge of combining the vices of free-market economies and command economies while possessing the virtues of neither. Or the part where our debt to GDP ratio is only sustainable because the dollar is the world’s reserve currency. Or the part where our entitlement programs are predicated on economic and social conditions that no longer exist.

And here our esteemed representatives are talking about standing up to their political opponents and crowing about making statements and whatnot. No one in Washington should be proud of themselves.

Unfortunately, they all are, because they all think that the system is unbreakable except by outright malice, never thinking that they might overwork or underfuel it, never thinking that their tinkering might create a worse problem than it fixes, or that some tinkering might be required.

Not that we the people are blameless in all this, because we’re the problem. We’ve allowed ourselves to be bamboozled into thinking this, because so far that’s been how things have worked. The center has held–but usually only because enough people believed it was cracking to stand together.

But no one thinks the center can crack. Which is a problem.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

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