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At an impasse?

December 28, 2011

Here’s a good column by Robert Samuelson at RealClearPolitics that reflects some of my thoughts on the budget cliff the U.S. seems to be determined to drive over. I think there’s a lot to the argument that the problem is too much spending, rather than not enough revenue; so I’m on the no-tax-hike side of that debate rather than the no-spending-cuts side.

But despite my view of the arguments pro or con, I’ve been wondering about the big picture: how the course of spending and taxes will be changed to avoid a government financial melt-down. There are many ways the situation might be resolved and some of them, as Mr. Samuelson hints at, could be pretty unpleasant.

A Country in Denial About Its Fiscal Future

WASHINGTON — There are moments when our political system, whose essential job is to mediate conflicts in broadly acceptable and desirable ways, is simply not up to the task. It fails. This may be one of those moments. What we learned in 2011 is that the frustrating and confusing budget debate may never reach a workable conclusion. It may continue indefinitely until it’s abruptly ended by a severe economic or financial crisis that wrenches control from elected leaders.

We are shifting from “give away politics” to “take away politics.” Since World War II, presidents and Congresses have been in the enviable position of distributing more benefits to more people without requiring ever-steeper taxes. Now, this governing formula no longer works, and politicians face the opposite: taking away — reducing benefits or raising taxes significantly — to prevent government deficits from destabilizing the economy. It is not clear that either Democrats or Republicans can navigate the change.

Our political system has failed before. Conflicts that could not be resolved through debate, compromise and legislation were settled in more primitive and violent ways. The Civil War was the greatest and most tragic failure; leaders couldn’t end slavery peacefully. In our time, the social protests and disorders of the 1960s — the civil rights and anti-war movements and urban riots — almost overwhelmed the political process. So did double-digit inflation, peaking at 13 percent in 1979 and 1980, which for years defied efforts to control it.

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One comment

  1. This arlitce keeps it real, no doubt.



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