I did not watch the first presidential debate when it took place. I watched it two days later on a video replay. The first ten minutes, that is. That was all I could stomach. This country is at the biggest crossroads since its founding, and the candidates were given two- minute segments of time to address the most complex and dangerous issues. In some cases the candidates simply ignored the questions and used their time allotment to make a pre-scripted pitch directly to the voters, or to bandy about accusations and labels in sound bite form. And indeed, there wasn’t much time for anything else. It was the triumph of form over substance, as indeed is the entire electoral process. I think we could have learned as much from the candidates if we had turned the sound off and simply watched their mouths move.
Apparently it doesn’t matter all that much. The country is split down the middle ideologically, with a lot of hatred flowing both ways. The Democrats and Republicans will vote along party lines, and there’s about 5% of the electorate that is still undecided and could be swayed one way or the other in the final days before the election. No matter who wins, about one half of the country will be quite certain the wrong choice was made and will be wringing their hands and preparing for Armageddon. No matter who wins, very little of substance is going to change. Political debts will come due, and favors will be rendered. The spoils of victory will be parsed out. Our military-industrial complex will continue with its global adventures, the Fed will continue to expand the money supply, and the warfare/welfare state will continue in imitation of the universe itself—expanding ever outward.
Congress will pass another 600-700 new laws each year, most of which probably will be read in their entirety only by the congressional staffers who wrote them. Each of these laws will benefit a focused few that passionately pushed for passage, and will be ignored by the stupefied, confused, and disorganized masses. And no matter who wins, economists, like trained seals, will flip fantastic numbers back and forth like bright colored balls, orbs containing mostly hot air. But the delighted crowds will applaud and award prizes to those with the prettiest algorithms and formulas and prognostications. We will still have millions of unemployed we don’t
count, debt we don’t include, cost-of-living numbers we manipulate, and GDP figures that mesmerize us—because every dummy on the continent knows we’re going to “grow our way” out of $70 trillion in debt.
When Gridlock is Good
We voters in this land of Oz look on in suspended animation, waiting for someone, anyone, to please perform some magic, some sleight of hand, to make all this go away. We bemoan the stubborn, irrational, and obstructionist position taken by the other side, and fantasize about how much better everything would be if we didn’t have the political opposition to deal with. I would caution my readers, regardless of which side of the political aisle you come from, that our nation and our economy is like a big 18-wheeler rig loaded with 80,000 pounds of freight picking up speed on a steep downgrade, and the brakes are acting funny. The only thing between us and certain disaster is the runaway truck ramp, and that ramp is the political opposition. Why do I say that? Because our government, and its handmaiden, the Federal Reserve, are making everything worse. Some congressional gridlock is the only brake on a runaway government that currently exists. That and an election just three weeks away. Both sides are going to do a lot of talking, but very little doing. No one wants to set off a land mine that loses the election. That’s good for everyone.
The Operation Was a Success, but the Patient Died
Let me illustrate it another way. Our government is like some incompetent doctors; it doesn’t know when to stop treating the patient and simply let the patient’s body heal itself. Like that doctor, our government must do something, because the voters expect it. And like that doctor, our government prescribes unnecessary treatments, increasing the possibility of unexpected side effects and increased possibility of infection.
The voters, like that ignorant, vulnerable and unsuspecting patient, look at their government and demand action. So they get action, and the patient dies from complications of the ill-advised adjuvant therapy. Is the doctor going to come out of the operating room and approach the survivors of the deceased and say, well, hindsight being what it is, maybe we shouldn’t have done that? Not in our lifetime. When the economic sepsis of endlessly printing money triggers all the monitors and this nation goes on life-support or flatlines, the politicos and the Fed are going to put their hands up in the air and say, sorry, we did everything we could. Nothing worked. And we voters will grieve and feel sorry for ourselves, or angry at the injustice and unfairness of life. Who knows, we may even feel sorry for Mr. Bernanke and the experts on his team—after all, they did the best they could. The government’s very predictable response will be more treatments, for us, those still left standing, some new and better interventions so that what just happened will never happen again. Of course. Is any of this beginning to sound familiar?
Political and Financial Sleight of Hand
True sleight of hand requires psychology. We saw that in the first debate, and we’ll see more of it soon. This means our candidates need to understand what the voters want, and then they need to convince them that they can have it, in defiance of all odds. Yes, we can spend our way to prosperity. There will be no unintended consequences. As a matter of fact, now that we have belatedly learned this, who needs a budget anyway? Such unnecessary unpleasantness!
Then comes misdirection, getting the public’s mind off of what you’re really up to. A good crisis usually serves the purpose, possibly domestic, but preferably foreign—a crisis created by an enemy outside our borders. If no one is challenging us militarily, we can always invoke some foreign demons of economic warfare. China will do nicely. Something will have to be done about their being smarter and more efficient at producing the goods we want and providing them to us at lower cost. This has to stop. New tariffs, perhaps, to force them to charge higher prices. Then we Americans will have to pay higher prices for goods produced domestically and less efficiently. Higher prices means the buying power of our dollar went down. We just got poorer. Now there’s a good move to improve the economy! True, it will hurt your and my economy, but it will do wonders for the economy of the handful of companies who are protected by the tariff. Their sales go up, their profits go up, and their contributions to their PAC go up. No crisis should be wasted. The experts tell us jobs were saved, and that’s what it’s all about right? Not your job, and not my job. A handful of jobs were saved, and fees will be paid, but you’ll never see it. The magician is too clever and he had us looking in the wrong direction when the favors were exchanged.
Timing is important too: sometimes we need enough time for the amnesiac voting public to forget what we said or promised, or manufacture and release some “good news” before the vote, or deliver the hammer right after the vote. There is a time to loudly publicize the jobs that were saved, and there is a time to be silent about the domestic jobs that were lost when our foreign competitors retaliate and impose tariffs on our goods we sell to them. Trade wars have a nasty habit of leading to shooting wars. But wars are good for our economy. Think of all the jobs we create or save!
Do Pickpockets Declare their Earnings?
Illusion is important; the voters need to be led to see what they expect to see. Like magic, something has to come from nothing. As with every good magician, this usually requires picking the pocket of some unsuspecting someone to please the audience. We are ready to believe. We are ready to be persuaded that nothing is what it appears to be. We need to believe that we can achieve a painless recovery, or at least, with someone else bearing the pain. Just not us. If we can get out the vote, we can make sure we get ours. It’s not our fault some have more than they deserve. As we pick the pockets of those above us, it never occurs to us that there are those below us waiting to pick ours. I can’t help wondering, do pickpockets add to GDP?