December 1, 2010
Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of President Obama's deficit commission, hope their final report will start an 'adult conversation' about the national debt. But members of Congress might have too much to lose politically to back the report.
The final report from the debt commission is out. (Previous posts on the debt commission here, here, and here.)
Marks of maturity (requirements for an “adult conversation”) include the ability to defer short-term gratification in exchange for greater rewards in the long-term; and the related ability to make sacrifices and give of oneself, for the benefit of others. (Healthy parenting would be a prime example of this kind of sacrifice, where we give up certain things for ourselves in order to meet the needs of our children.)
I don’t think our political life can support or sustain the “adult conversation” that Simpson and Bowles are hoping for.
If that’s true, and if projections of fiscal ruin are true, then to avert disaster, leadership on this question (and by “leadership” in this context I mean both the ability to support and sustain an “adult conversation,” and the will to take appropriate action) will need to come from somewhere other than the political arena.
via Why Obama’s latest bid to control national debt might not change anything – CSMonitor.com.
November 22, 2010
The alternative to government-led, coercive shared sacrifice in order to reduce the national debt, is voluntary shared sacrifice. Given the limitations and frailties of human nature, such altruism is rare even in the best of times. Another factor is that the national debt is impersonal– it’s hard for you and me to directly experience, let alone imagine, both its cost, and the benefit resulting from its reduction. It’s a little bit like global warming: I don’t know about you, but on this raw November day, I’m feeling a little chilly. Global warming? Right now I’m more interested in being close to the wood stove.
It’s hard, in general, for us to imagine there’s a problem when we don’t have the immediate experience of it. If it’s difficult to imagine there’s a problem, all the more difficult, then, to move toward a solution (why move toward a solution if the problem can’t be imagined?)– and all the more difficult still, if that solution calls for sacrifice.
As an anxious society operates increasingly in survival mode, voluntary shared sacrifice becomes less of an option. Voluntary shared sacrifice requires capacities of reflection and deferred pleasure– adaptive responses to a challenging environment. Survival mode is non-reflective and immediate, with little choice and no creativity: fight, flight, or freeze. When we’re reacting rather than responding, shared sacrifice is impossible.
The most pressing religious questions of our age have to do with anxiety, and how we will manage that anxiety– both privately and publicly.
November 19, 2010
President Obama’s bipartisan debt commission has employed the phrase “shared sacrifice” as part of its recommendation on how to reduce the national debt.
Is shared sacrifice possible? How?
At one level, shared sacrifice might happen through governmental action. I am thinking about the rationing of gasoline during wartime, or the ban on watering lawns during a drought: in both instances, the centralized power of government organizes the shared sacrifice, and is available to compel– through sanction or force– those who do not co-operate. In these situations, the threat is broadly recognized throughout the society (the enemy is clear in wartime; the lack of rain is clear in drought), and so the social cohesion necessary for shared sacrifice is relatively high. While the power of government to coerce is present, it’s (mostly) not needed (except for your neighbor who turns on his sprinkler at 3am).
The problem with the national debt today is, the enemy is not clearly in our consciousness: the threat is not broadly recognized. Pain in our society is either blamed on someone else (scapegoating), or it is numbed (denial). In fact, in an eventually self-defeating feedback loop, the national debt serves to mask present pain, by borrowing from the future. An organism that masks pain is vulnerable to disease and injury, because pain is the signal of imbalance, and the need to adjust.