Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Where It Might Break

Incompetence takes a while to do damage.

In the frothing, bubbling reactiveness to our current administration, that reality gets missed.   Everything is a reason to be upset.  Whatever minor outrage has been instigated that day consumes the twitching twitter-madness of our twenty four minute news cycle.

Most of it is irrelevant.

What's worth looking at are the real crisis points, the places of genuine threat, where the issue is not just that we're on the wrong road heading the wrong direction at a hundred and twenty with a cheap beer in our hand, but are also at real risk of crashing through a guardrail and into a ravine.

The first of these, it seems, comes in September or October, when the federal government runs out of money.  That wouldn't just mean a few federales not getting paid for a bit.  It'd mean default, and a cascade that would seize up the Rube Goldberg contraption that passes for our global economy.

That means bad things.

This has happened before, too often, as our debt-addled culture continues to believe it can function by just borrowing, borrowing, borrowing.  The way to approach that is through sensible budgeting, streamlining functions of government, really dealing with health care costs, making the wealthy pay their fair share, and standing down our imperial military.

But that would require sanity.  And sanity?  Hah.  The inmates are running Arkham now, and things are different.

The party that controls both houses of Congress?  Too many of its members are neo-Confederates, who would be perfectly happy to bring the Union down.  They are "led" by a President whose sense of his own skills is as far removed from his actual competence as we are from taking our summer vacations on Kepler 186f.

There is a substantially higher chance that this recurring inflection point will be bungled, through some toxic admixture of blind ideology and brazen stupidity.

And sure, there are grownups in the room, advisors who know how the system works, and know what would happen if a fool convinced that he is the best negotiator who has ever lived decided to use catastrophic default as leverage for renegotiating the debt.  Those grownups do not want to pointlessly crater the global economic system, because that would be bad.

The odds are in favor of things just proceeding as normal.  Most likely, things will be fine.

But those odds feel markedly lower than they once were, in a way that's faintly distressing.  Not panic inducing.  Just a little worrying, as you notice some...but not all...of the warning signs.  A little worrying, as the numbers look less like "what are the chances I'll be struck by lightning today" and more like "what's the likelihood I'll spill some of my coffee tomorrow morning."

That's the problem trying to be prophetic in a probabilistic universe.    "There's a thirty four point two percent chance that the end might possibly be near" just doesn't have the right ring to it.