Monday, September 23, 2013

Presidents have toyed with the debt ceiling before -- they just didn't tell us

The president has repeatedly said that it is not appropriate to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip to extract policy concessions. That certainly sounds right. 
  
But yesterday, on CNN, New Gingrich and a couple other observers noted that presidents have negotiated on the debt ceiling ever since Eisenhower.  What explains this apparent contradiction?
Presidents have had to contemplate “the unthinkable” ever since World War II.  Particularly during the Kennedy administration, there were serious possibilities of nuclear destruction.
  
In some people’s minds, this amounts to “revolution” (as in the NBC series).  Infrastructure is destroyed, money becomes worthless, and people start over.  There is a new moral order.  There is a curious problem in saying we value all human life but then have a system were only those who can function and compete socially survive, in a world without much technology.  But in other ways, we have that same paradox today.
  
The point is that presidents are used to the idea that a “way of life” can come to a sudden end, just as it often has in history.  But that idea seems to lead to a cavalier attitude toward protecting stability and infrastructure.
  
The biggest danger from a debt ceiling blowup is probably not just social security benefits and military pay (which would probably continue), but because of the loss of the meaning of our currency.  It’s conceivable that for many people savings and accumulated wealth – the bedrock of stability for many (and the ability to look away from the homelessness of others) could evaporate. 
  
In fact, it’s a good question as to why we even have a debt ceiling at all.  Still, without one, the Federal Reserve just prints more money.  At some point, certain financial prophets (like Porter Stansberry) say, the dollar is no longer accepted around the world, and a collapse ensues. 

The idea that “Armageddon” can be imposed (by nature, as with extreme solar storms, or by terrorists, as with EMP, or by political ideologues of the Doomsday Prepper variety) does feed into a lot of moral thinking.  Virtue emphasizes the idea that it isn’t just about “you”, it’s about whether you have a human stake in who will follow you.  That’s naturally very difficult for many people, so politicians try to scapegoat those who distract everyone from what is seen as necessary socialization.  Just look at what Putin is doing in Russia.
  

So, let me come back to Obama.  I wish it were unacceptable to drag the lives of all of us into a debate about the hardship for “relatively” few caused supposedly by “Obamacare”.  It’s true, that while the Affordable Care Act will offer just that to many people, it will also cause hardship.  There are real problems with people being put on part time – and I thought that the law had been delayed for a year for employers.  There are problems with the reasonableness of individual premiums for some people, even with supports.  There are new constituent people being suddenly put out.  And unfortunately, some in the House, especially, feel that their constituents’ very real problems won’t be heard until everyone is held hostage.   Are we really all in this together?  

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