Well, I guess we survived another doomsday prediction.
For those who weren’t paying attention, the world was supposed to end on December 21. That view was held by millions of folks who interpreted centuries-old Mayan writings to have predicted that precise date for the end of time. It is hardly the first such prediction that has failed to materialize. Whether promulgated by self-claimed soothsayers or adherents of fringe religious cults, end-of-the-world prophesies have been around forever, and despite the fact that they all end up being just so much claptrap, the next one will find just as many people preparing for Armaggedon.
If, like me, you have trouble comprehending how anyone could hold such beliefs in our new millennial age, you may also find it difficult to understand how a group of elected politicians believe that a slight increase in taxes on very wealthiest citizens will destroy the nation’s economy.
And yet, there are such politicians. They do exist, and, as the current year comes to a close, they are, indeed, creating their own kind of doomsday scenario.
The much feared fiscal cliff is due to hit as the current calendar year comes to a close in just a few days. For months, actually for over a year, that cliff has been looming on the country’s economic horizon. And, unlike the ancient Mayan prognostication, the likelihood of a severe hit on the economy has not been the thinking of radicals or fringe cultists.
Rather, it is the view of just about every respectable economist that if all of the cuts in government spending are realized at the same time that the increases in taxes take place (which is what is legislated to occur on January 1), the economy will revert to another recession, with joblessness soon climbing back into the dreaded double-digit region that was only briefly felt with the last recession (the one that began in 2008 and ended in 2009).
The thinking is that this one would last a good deal longer and that unemployment would climb a good deal higher, so drastic would the impact of the cuts in spending and across-the-board increase in taxes be.
Still with all of that reality staring the legislators in Washington square in the face, a small number of them are resisting a compromise that would avoid the risk of the disaster that going over the cliff portends.
Why, you may ask, having survived a prognostication of the end of the world, would we want to risk something much more mundane, to wit: the end of the economic recovery that is just beginning to take hold?
The answer probably lies in the thinking of those Republicans in the House of Representatives who last week refused to support Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” to avoid the cliff by allowing tax rates to revert to pre-2000 levels for the top two-tenths of one percent of the nation’s income earners.
Boehner was so confident that his proposal would pass that he went public with the plan and claimed that with its passage the risk of going over the cliff would be entirely left with President Obama, who would, presumably, then have to either accept Boehner’s Plan B or provide massive entitlement cuts to justify any further movement by the Republicans.
Of course, as we now know, Boehner’s troops rejected his plan (or at least enough of them did to deny him the 218 votes he would have needed to pass it). And so now, with the cliff looming ever closer, the President is trying to work a deal through the Senate that would then be forced on the House on a take-it or leave-it vote.
Of course, the Republicans in the Senate are also at sixes and sevens with themselves on the issue of tax increases for the wealthiest Americans. And, armed with the power of the filibuster, which can be wielded by only a few of their number, the likelihood is great that they will join with their House colleagues in forcing the country over the cliff.
Which again raises the question of why. It’s one thing to believe that the world will come to its end on a date certain because some deep thinker back in the early Paleozoic era thought it might, and quite another to ignore the easily verified predictions of modern day economists that the legislatively-mandated fiscal cliff will send the country into an economic nosedive.
The answer, of course, is much the same answer that the doomsday believers cling to: dogma. For those who thought the world would end last week, the dogma is an outgrowth of beliefs in supernatural powers (be they God or the alignment of the stars or some other unknowable controlling force). For those who would take the country over the fiscal cliff, the dogma is an outgrowth of beliefs in the evils of government spending, especially in areas of public assistance and entitlement programs.
These “believers” will do anything to “kill the beast” of government dependency that they are convinced spells the loss of individual freedom and prosperity. It is a belief much built on faith in a theory, a theory that less government involvement in the lives of individuals promotes greater self-reliance and that greater self-reliance promotes greater economic activity.
And it may be that in an ideal world, one not burdened with the realities of innate poverty, and inadequate education, and racial prejudice, and gender bias, and single-parent families, and children born with congenital mental health defects, and natural disasters that wipe out family fortunes, and all the other things that make life hard and that create inherent inequities in the conditions of some as opposed to others, that theory might well have merit.
But, of course, we don’t live in such a world. And the country cannot sustain itself with an attitude that rejects the need for government programs that give people a chance when they otherwise wouldn’t have one and that gives the economy the assistance that it cannot, at times, provide for itself.
The good news is that the world hasn’t ended; the bad news is that the country’s economy is most definitely at risk.