To start, let me say I’m dubious about the indiscriminate application of labels like “liberal” and “conservative.” When we apply labels to ourselves or others, these labels automatically open pigeonholes encouraging us to dismiss the other’s point of view without slowing down to think or analyze. Let’s remember, conversation is a two-way street. If we expect our brothers and sisters to be open to the possibility that opinions might change on the strength of compelling argument, we must be open to persuasion as well.
This week, I overheard a discussion between two pundits concerning the level of America’s deficit and the steadily increasing American debt limit. According to the “conservative” pundit, unless these are brought under control, America’s national security will be seriously compromised. In response, the “liberal” inquired whether the deficit and debt limit were having any meaningful effect on his colleague’s lifestyle. The answer was, “Not at this time.”
The implication was, of course, that if deficits and debt limits aren’t causing “Main Street” problems, there’s no need for concern. Those of us who make dire predictions regarding the devastating scenarios we might expect if we continue with our current spending and borrowing habits are often dismissed as modern-day versions of “Chicken Little.” Everyone remembers the story; the hysterical chicken upsetting all the neighbors by running around crying, “The sky is falling.”
On the other hand, let’s not forget the old joke about the unrealistically optimistic fella that trips and falls off a 16-story building. As he plummets past every floor on the way down, he’s heard reassuring himself, “So far, so good.”
Let’s take a disciplined look at history. No great nation collapses overnight. There are always warning signs. There are always preventable mistakes. There is always a breach of duty to be vigilant or prudent or thorough or observant.
In some way or another, the downfall of every world power can trace its origins to the same legendary error made by the Trojans. They were warned about “the horse.” But their pride, arrogance and haste brushed all resistance aside. Those who argued against accepting “the gift of the Greeks” were dismissed as mere alarmists. As a result, according to the story, Troy was destroyed to its foundations and its population killed or forced into slavery.
Thousands of the residents of Pompeii died when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. when they ignored the warnings of their neighbors who urged them to flee because a calamity was in the making. No doubt the owner of some Pompeiian cheese shop refused to seek safety because “The rumbling is far away and it isn’t really affecting my business right now.” After all, so far, so good.
For the first time since the founding of this country we are witnessing the widespread financial collapse of important American cities. In every instance, these failures can be traced to financial short-sightedness. When any person, household, municipality, state or nation takes on more debt than it can pay, the outcome is predictable. Financial ruin follows. It doesn’t take a prophet or economics wizard to know this. Here’s another truism. If you’re in financial trouble, you don’t make it go away by pretending it’s not there. You may be able to postpone the reckoning, but one thing is certain. Ultimately, your debts catch up with you and someone has to pay.
This country is borrowing money at an obscene rate, and when you borrow you make two promises. First, you promise to pay back the loan. Next, you promise that the currency you use to pay it back is worth at least as much as the currency you borrowed. Essentially, what this generation of Americans is doing is charging a credit card up to the max, raising our credit limit and charging up to the new max. We ourselves won’t be stuck with the bill. We’ll leave this for our children and grandchildren to pay. As we plummet from the 16th floor toward the hard landing, we can say, happily “So far, so good.” Because, we won’t take the fall. It’s the next generation that will pay for our clumsiness, our shortsightedness, our arrogance and our wastefulness.
Each time someone tries to “put the brakes” on our runaway spending, the “easy money crowd protests, “Don’t be so stubborn. We’ll find the money to pay for this somewhere; we always do.”
If we don’t make the hard choices now and go on a fiscal diet, future historians will say, “All the signs were there. They should have seen this coming. They just didn’t have the wisdom to preserve their blessings.”
I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.