Jonah mentioned earlier Commentary’s symposium on America’s future, in which I am officially the voice of pessimism. In fairness, I see myself as more of a the-glass-is-one-sixteenth-full type.
At any rate, Veronique’s post is a good example of why pessimism is the way to bet. The prevailing bounds of American politics do not allow for meaningful course correction. Instead:
1) Months are expended in a dramatic media showdown over the debt crisis with network anchors warning of ever more looming deadlines over footage of various eminences shuttling between the White House and the Capitol.
2) At the last minute, a deal is triumphantly announced.
3) The deal allegedly saves $1 billion from FY2012 — or approximately what the Government of the United States borrows every five hours. So in less time than it takes to run the press release for the breakthrough deal off the photocopier, we’ve borrowed back all the money it saves. But hey, it’s a start. And it’s the thought that counts.
4) Months later, the actual bill goes through, and — whaddayaknow? — the cheeseparing austerity package of spending cuts turns out actually to increase spending by $10 billion.
5) Lather, rinse and repeat.
Don’t worry, you say. Wait until we get a Republican Senate elected.
But a third of GOP senators voted for the “uncontroversial, non-partisan” measure. And three-fifths of them voted against even modest cuts to a typically wasteful “rural development” boondoggle that creates jobs in Guatemala and subsidizes Mohegan Sun casino. And, if you can’t even trim back a program that hands out $3 million grants to add a gallery to an old sea dog’s house on Martha’s Vineyard, it’s no wonder 40 members of the allegedly rock-ribbed Republican House have decided that supporting the raising of “new revenue” is easier than cutting spending.
In 2011, the United States government took in $2.17 trillion but blew through $3.82 trillion — and that’s before Entitlement Armageddon shows up down the road. If you’re spending $4 trillion but only raising $2 trillion, you need to be cutting government in half or you’re not serious. Washington is not serious. Indeed, it’s far more frivolous than Athens.
The world has begun to figure out that the US political class is institutionally incapable of changing its ways, and cannot be diverted from the most expensive suicide in global history. Regardless of whether or not the downgrade wallahs are a bunch of shysters, nobody could seriously argue that the present finances of the United States merit triple-A status. Once that’s gone, the dollar’s status as global reserve currency is on the block. And after that what’s holding the joint up?
Where were you exactly 12 months ago? November 2nd 2010. America held an election that day. Remember that? The shot heard round the world? But apparently not in Washington. Doesn’t November 2nd 2010 feel a lot further away than twelve months ago?