The Ongoing Fiscal Crisis, and Democratic Processes

Everybody elected works for the people in about the same proportion.  They were all sent there representing a constituency, and all of those people deserve to have their voices involved in the process, even when they are wrong.  The purpose is not to come up with the optimal outcome — it’s to come up with an outcome that most people can accept.  Fighting and maneuvering and compromising is an important part of the process.  It’s annoying to watch, but it’s designed into the system, and it’s a feature, not a bug.

And it’s the only way we’re going to get this deficit problem solved.  We’ve tried all kinds of commissions, and passing laws to limit how much can be spent and how much can be taxed, and they have clearly and abjectly failed.  Now, we’re disturbingly near the point where we can’t maintain the illusion that we can ever pay back those we have borrowed from, so borrowing more is becoming less and less possible, and that’s the only reason we might be able to fix the problem.

We can’t do it all by cutting government spending, because every dollar spent has a constituency who have a narrative about why they should get at least triple more than they do, and why anybody who wants to cut it is stupid, evil, short-sighted and, probably, greedy.  We can’t do it all by increasing taxes because every dollar taxed has a constituency who have a narrative about why they should not be the ones paying as much as they do, and why somebody else should pay more (and someone is probably greedy there, too).  So the solution is to get all those constituencies together in one large dialogue where the rules are that, when it’s done, the deficit has to go down reliably and consistently in real terms (no more gimmicks like leaving all the unspecified spending cuts for 2 to 120 months down the road).  It has to go down this year, and next year, and drop to zero in less than a decade, and not go back up.

How we accomplish that will require serious negotiations in good faith, and the people in power have no real experience in doing that.  Word on the street is that the President is particularly bad at it, for example, but his Vice President is pretty good at it.  But they can only go as fast as the electorate are willing to go, and that’s where the growing-up I mentioned before needs to take place.  Less with the dismissive rhetoric, more with the listening respectfully, and more with the doing the homework it takes to understand the process.

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