Where Angels Fear to Tread

According to Miss Manners, talking about politics or religion is impolite. Why? Because people passionately hold onto views in both areas, often with little or nothing to back them up.  Daring to talk about religion or politics is walking where angels fear to tread.

Today I’m taking a walk on the wild side. Miss Manners can sue me, if she’s even still around. Far as I can tell, the notion of polite society vanished when states turned red or blue.

Our nation has become increasingly polarized. The people we elect to public office are largely responsible for the great divide.  Cable “news” and talk radio make things worse.

Talking to each other, debating differences of opinion, and seeking compromise are out of fashion. We only talk about political issues with like-minded people and obtain our information from often extremely biased sources that support whatever we happen to believe. Instead of being the virtue that once defined who we are as a nation, compromise has become a sign of weakness.

Remember “united we stand, divided we fall”? It is the sentiment that helped the first Americans to win independence from an uncaring and unjust monarchy. Now we are a nation divided. It’s us against them, and as a result, we’re all losing.

Thanks to the “win at any cost” mentality of partisan politics, we are heading rapidly toward a recession that will make the last downturn look like a picnic in the park.  Forget two trillion dollar math errors. Standard and Poor’s downgraded our country’s rating because of partisan politics and a belief that our elected leaders will not be able to reach agreement about how to fix our economic problems. I’m inclined to agree.

Forget about the balanced budget amendment, please. You won’t find an economist anywhere who supports this position. Thinking this is a good idea shows a frightening lack of understanding about the functions of the federal government.

Preventing or stopping an economic downturn is a primary reason to just say no to talk of a balanced budget. In a strong economy, consumer spending drives growth. When consumer spending stalls, demand falls, and people start losing jobs. Unless they find work fast, their homes go into foreclosure and spending grinds to a halt. Cutting taxes is a non-issue for someone who doesn’t have a job.

When consumer spending stalls, it’s the federal government’s job to increase spending. Extending unemployment and beefing up food stamps helps. But what’s really needed is a big increase in spending for infrastructure–bricks and mortar projects that will provide jobs for unemployed workers so they can start spending and paying taxes.

Is the federal budget too big? Perhaps. But cutting government spending in a weak economy is asking for a double-dip recession.

If you’re really concerned about the national debt and the federal deficit (two different things), the only feasible solution in a weak economy is to raise taxes. I’d rather see my taxes go up a little than to watch my retirement savings go down the toilet. And tons of indicators (sales of upscale homes and luxury goods, CEO compensation, oil company profits, Wall Street bonuses–just to name a few) suggest the wealthiest segment of the population is not really sharing the sacrifice experienced by the ranks of unemployed who are supposed to benefit from the mythological trickle-down effect of lower taxes.

Conservatives and liberals can and do disagree about how much to increase spending and taxes. But drawing a line in the sand and refusing to do either is sending our economy in a direction nobody is going to like. It’s true–ask any economist–not just the one who blogs here on…

My Glass House