Radio Derb on the Debt Crisis

by John Derbyshire

Last week:

Talk this week was all about the Boehner Plan. This is some scheme the leader of the House cooked up promising to cut 22 billion dollars in spending next year and, of course lots and lots more in years to come. It’s picayune and bogus of course, as a solution to our fiscal problems, and everyone knows it, but as a political gambit it has lots of support from mainstream Republicans.

Let me just clarify that “picayune and bogus.” Picayune: next year’s 22 billion in cuts is 2.2 percent of a trillion, or 0.058 percent of a year’s federal spending. Bogus: Nobody any longer believes the talk about cuts in spending two or five or ten years ahead. Today’s Congress can’t control that, and when they say they can, they’re lying.

We have a systemic problem. It’s deep. Congress can’t control its addiction to spending, ever-increasing spending. It’s not Barack Obama’s fault, though he sure isn’t helping. It’s not George W. Bush’s fault, though he sure didn’t help either. It’s not even Congress’s fault — we the people elect them, don’t we?

Back in the 1930s when Chiang Kai-shek ruled China, he faced two great problems threatening his nation. One was Japanese aggression, the other was communist insurrection. Chiang concentrated his efforts on the communists. When people criticized him for this, he explained: “The Japanese are a disease of the skin; the communists are a disease of the bowels.”

Whatever you think of Chiang Kai-shek’s judgment in that particular matter, something similar applies here. The U.S.A. has a disease of the bowels. Repeated applications of Clearasil won’t help.

It’s in the nature of democracies — especially optimistic ones like ours, where wishful thinking is the common approach to events — that deep systemic problems of this kind don’t get properly addressed until the pain they cause is widespread and undeniable. I’m afraid that’s what has to happen. As with the Civil War, as with the Depression, we have to pass through some great crisis; and postponing the crisis will only mean it’s worse when it finally happens.

That’s not fatalism. I’m not saying there is nothing we can do. There’s plenty we can do. We can shut down pointless and unnecessary federal departments. We can repatriate the 56,000 troops we have stationed in Germany. We can raise the Social Security eligibility age to 70. We can end the ethanol subsidy, in fact all farm subsidies. There are a hundred things we can do. We just don’t have the will to do any of them; and we won’t have that will until pain is real and widespread.

In the meantime, what you’re seeing in the headlines is just political make-work, just pointless busy-ness, that will all be forgotten when the storm hits. Which it will, sooner or later; and the later it hits, the worse it’ll be.

I had better note, before anyone else takes up the issue, the following comment from an RD listener:

When you mentioned the Chiang Kai-shek quote in the latest episode of Radio Derb, I thought it would be a good idea to look up the original Chinese. However during my quest I found that the English translations that I could find referred to the Communists as a disease of the heart, not the bowels. As for the Chinese, during my (admittedly quick and cursory) search, I found several variations, but they mostly referred to the Japanese as 皮膚— and the Communists as 心臟—, which backs up the English translations.

Anyway, since I didn’t find a single complete quote (rather than a fragmentary or paraphrased quote), I’m not entirely confident, but I believe that the “heart disease” translation is the correct one. If you happen to have the real quote, I’d greatly appreciate it if you could send it my way.

I was of course working from memory & have no time to pursue the matter, but if anyone has input I’ll post it. I distinctly remember “bowels.” It’s the kind of word you do remember.

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