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When you’re mugged in a dark alley at gunpoint, a win could be losing your wallet but keeping your life. America is being mugged in plain view at economic gunpoint, and too many of the 300 million American bystanders think the ones holding the gun are the good guys and the nation being mugged will be better off for being deprived of its wallet. Under such conditions, a win might be getting out of the situation with our national life still intact.

The political reality is that enough of the American people, extremely foolishly, helped put into place enough inflexible fanatics with an irrational agenda that arriving at a reasonable policy solution to the current combined debt ceiling/national debt reduction “crisis” (a crisis created by the gun now pointed at our head by those who claim to be dedicated to averting the crisis) may simply be impossible. Those elected fanatics and their fanatical followers wield enough pivotal political power in Congress that their insane will cannot simply be shunted aside. And they have dug in on the notion of not compromising.

The left complains that Obama did not stand firm enough, but does anyone really believe that having stood any firmer would have led to any other conclusion? Without Congressional approval, the nation (those of us that are rational and sane, that is) is left with a few extreme possible maneuvers, such as the president unilaterally invoking the 14th amendment provision (section 4) stating that ” [t]he validity of  the public debt of the United States…shall not be questioned.” That, or another similar legal maneuver, might well be the right choice, but it might not be. A careful cost-benefit analysis is required to make that determination, and such maneuvers are by no means costless.

My point is not that what The Economist magazine has called an “economically illiterate and disgracefully cynical” refusal to include revenues as part of any debt-reduction plan is in any way defensible policy -it isn’t (it will cost jobs, reduce services, shrink the economy, and, in the long run, both exacerbate our national debt problem while simultaneously decimating our quality of life)- but rather that the question now may be one of how little self-inflicted harm we escape from having to suffer.

I use the word “might” in the title of this post very purposefully: All hope is not yet lost, and we might indeed be able to escape this situation with a better deal than the one we seem now to be careening toward. But it is not at all clear that that is possible, and it is quite clear that it may not be, so we (that is, again, the rational and sane among us) need to brace ourselves for the possibility that we are indeed going to be victims of an act of political sabotage of our national and world economy, and that the goal for us (again, the rational and sane among us) might indeed be minimizing the damage caused by that act of political sabotage.

I suspect that this will be one of my least popular posts among those who appreciate my perspective, and I hope that their greater optimism and faith in our ability to ensure that reason prevails, at least to some degree greater than the almost non-existent degree that I am conceding may be the greatest degree currently possible, is warranted and that I am proven wrong in my present pessimistic caution about what can be expected, and about what can be immediately accomplished by the rational and sane among our elected officials. But my purpose in writing this unhappy post is to advise my friends that we can suffer great acts of violence from within or without, whether physical or social institutional in nature, and survive to recover and grow stronger and wiser and healthier even so. And that completely or largely averting such acts of violence and their consequences, as we so often see throughout human history, is not something that the rational and sane among us always have within our power to do.

When dealing with irrational people who have acquired some form of power, whether it is a gun with which to mug a stranger in the street, or elected office with which to mug a nation in plain view, it is not always possible to arrive at rational or fair or productive outcomes. Sometimes, you just have to deal with the fact that irrational people have power, and act rationally within the context of that reality. Brace yourselves for that possibility, and spare those who were forced by their own sense of responsibility to give in from the brunt of your just rage over the crime which forced them to do so.

Yes, shame on those fanatics, both those elected to office and those who voted for them. But there is indeed a gun to our heads, and while we don’t want the muggers to get away with the crime they are committing against us, we even more definitively don’t want them to pull the trigger.

  • Steve, regretfully, I must simultaneously hate this article, and call it one of your finest.

    There’s really very little to add, except a bit about the 14th amendment.

    It’s risky. It would end up before the Supreme Court, and Obama will take heat for it, and it might deflect the consequences which are surely due the perpetuators in this fiasco.

    But there are two benefits I see.

    First — the debt limit badly needs to be neutered. It makes absolutely no sense budgeting after you’ve already spent the money! The debt limit serves no actual purpose — it’s just a bookkeeping reminder that hey, we’ve overspent our budget.

    I suggest we replace it with a national day of mourning and repentance at every 250 billion of debt. That would be far more useful.

    Second — it would buy us time. Maybe only days, but time.

    It could backfire. Like you, I don’t know whether it is a good idea or not. I can’t predict just how that clause will be interpreted, in the end.

  • Good points, Bob, especially the role the use of the 14th Amendment would have in neutering the archaic and dysfunctional debt ceiling.

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