Monday, November 23, 2009


I am naturally a pessimist. Always have been. When I was a kid, my mom's nickname for me was Puddleglum, after the relentlessly dour but redoubtable Marshwiggle from The Silver Chair. As I saw it then, being a pessimist had no down side. If things went badly, well, you right. If things went well, then things were cool and it didn't matter.

Problem is, that doesn't reflect our agency in a situation. Being convinced that things will go badly tends to demotivate most human beings. Focusing relentlessly on the negative has this unfortunate tendency to produce negative results. Yes, we're just "being honest." We're "telling it like it is." But we're also helping to define the direction in which actions will be taken. If all is inevitably despair and woe, then we may as well just sit around muttering moodily to ourselves and chainsmoking unfiltered Camels until the poo hits the fan.

It's true in church, where obsessing over the insurmountability of an issue can paralyze a community. You gotta have hope, seeing the best case scenario towards which we can direct ourselves as a reality that exists fully as a potential future. As my own wee kirk earnestly works to survive, I've starting fighting more against my innate grimness. I will be positive. We do have hope. Because we do. Because I do. Period.

Where I have more trouble is looking at the trajectory of our nation and seeing anything positive. As we fritter away the days, happening to convince me that the United States will be a healthy, vibrant nation in the moderate-term future. We the people are divided and distracted, and that's a problem, because we the people are headed towards bankruptcy. America will default on it's debt, absent some sort of divine intervention. For all of the jabbering on the right about government being the problem, and how we'd be better off without it, the economic impacts of that on all of us will be catastrophic.

None of our leaders are willing to stand up and tell us the economic truth, not one. That truth is a pretty basic one: if you want something, you have to pay for it. But that's not really their fault. It's ours. We don't want to hear it. Politicians can't make the draconian cuts and tax increases that are needed. If they do, or even hint that they might, we run 'em out on a rail. It's the challenge of a representative democracy. This pattern has sustained for decades, and is without precedent in U.S. history. It spells trouble.

I was playing around this morning with a Budget Challenge game over at the website of the Concord Coalition. The Concord Coalition is a group with whom I feel considerable sympathy. They're fiscal conservatives who've been futilely ringing alarm bells about the debt for years. They crafted this little sim to educate folks about the difficulty of reducing the debt. It's no Modern Warfare 2, I'll admit. But it's still important. It's a little budget creation simulation that allows you to measure the impact of every major budget proposal on the debt, and to create your own budget.

Here's the rub. Play the game. If you reject every major budget proposal that increases the debt, and accept every viable option (my Canadian Army option is understandably not included) that reduces the debt, the debt still increases.

There is no escape. You can't win. The simulation is an economic Kobayashi Maru.

I do not find this reassuring. But perhaps I'm being too Puddleglummy. Tell me how you think our nation will get itself out of this mess. Show me the hope.