Friday, September 21, 2012

Choices, choices...

Some bread and cheese to go with that whine?
"Some choice."
In a lot of ways, those two words sum up one of the major problems that begins to beset a mature society. People become accustomed to the idea that choice means coming to a decision about which desirable thing they want most. But it's worth keeping in mind that just because one doesn't have the choices that one wants, that doesn't mean that one doesn't have a choice - or that the choices you do have aren't important.

The choice between patience and sacrifice might be a crappy one, but the series of events that put us in that situation are largely of our own making - on the national and historical scales to be certain, but even though we as individuals may be more or less blameless, Americans prior made this bed, and as Americans now, we're the ones stuck with having to sleep in it. Over the span of decades we built an economy that relied, at least partially on debt, and rolling that debt over. Which is fine, but at some point, the debts have to be paid off, and if the money has been borrowed for consumption, rather than true investment, then the only way to find the money to do so is to suffer a reduction in real purchasing power. There really is no other way, short of holding up a bank. So the difficult and painful work can be done over a long time, or you can give up a lot, and bite the bullet to retire things more quickly. There are no quick, easy and painless solutions to the mess that we're in. In fact, it's possible that all of those characteristics are out of reach. While it may be natural to feel disappointed in that, allowing that disappointment can only lead to the can being kicked down the road yet again. And guess how we got into this mess in the first place. We're making progress with the fact that the political establishment has largely given up on the 90s mantra that borrowing was simply another form of investment, and the resulting perpetual growth would magically deal with the national debt without American taxpayers ever being asked to contribute anything. But politics is driven, when it really comes down to it, by popularity. And the most popular man at any event is the one who is handing out something for "nothing."

Of course, it turned out that "nothing" was rather more expensive than it had first been advertised. (Isn't it always?) And so we're left with some unpleasant options for paying the piper. Rather than complain that we don't have the choices that we want, we have to start dealing with the choices that we have, and make the best of them.

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