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I’ll be as upfront as I can: this is not going to be a sophisticated analysis of the budget deficit, the national debt, and its implications on the economy going forward. What it is going to be, is the perception of ordinary people who know full well that all that stuff is way over their heads, and only have what they see and how their lives are going to judge the state of things by.
But first, a divergence into the seemingly unrelated issue of climate change. Why are initiatives such as the Green New Deal failing to catch on outside the most politically connected circles on the coasts? Sure, in the case of the GND specifically, you could argue it’s poorly written with highly impractical and arguably counterproductive goals. But I’m speaking in the general sense. Why is the hysteria of impending climate doom not having a whole lot of impact with any but the most politically aware voters?
The answer to that is straightforward enough. It is because we have heard the same proclamations of doom all our lives. In my case, literally: the first Earth Day in 1970, with the grand declaration that the doom of humanity at the hands of the climate, was on the day I was due to emerge onto this planet, and I must have gotten wind of it somehow because I instead decided to stay in the womb another three weeks before finally being coaxed out.
The point being, when something has been a constant in our lives, and yet never actually seems to impact our lives in the way we’re told it will, it’s entirely natural that we eventually start to just tune it out. Even if it’s not a conscious effort, our brains just process it as noise and move on.
So what does all of that have to do with the debt crisis? Well, more than you might think. Consider everything I wrote in the above three paragraphs, and swap out climate change for the national debt. Sure, there is no holiday to promote awareness of the debt (unless you count April 15), but it remains a fact that we used to be the generation that was going to have to pay off the billions and trillions in debt. But somehow, that bill seems to have gotten lost in the mail.
My father said repeatedly that he never expected to see a dime from Social Security. And yet there the checks were waiting for him after he finally retired, and for my mother after he passed a few years later. Social Security was supposed to have gone bankrupt over and over in my lifetime, and yet somehow there it still is.
But doesn’t that sound familiar? We’re all supposed to have died over and over again from climate change, and yet somehow here we still are. Is it possible that the same noise filters that tune out climate change hysteria, also tune out fears about what disaster is awaiting the economy if we dare to raise the debt ceiling even one more time?
Ah, you say, but unlike with the climate change hysterics, the debt is a real, objectively measurable thing. We even have a big sign that accurately updates it to the second. And it’s certainly a big number, with a lot of digits.
But what … what does it actually mean?
I want to emphasize again that I am not asking this question on my own behalf but on that of the ordinary voter, living their ordinary life. That big, big number keeps getting bigger and bigger and yet … what does it mean? Why is $22 trillion so much worse than $2 trillion, which we were told at the time was already catastrophically huge? How are people’s lives worse because of that big big number, and how would they be better if it were to go away?
I’m sure there’s a perfectly good academic answer to those questions, but that’s missing the point, because those academic explanations are inevitably going to be far over the heads of the ordinary voters I’m speaking of.
It’s not even a case of “they value the goodies they get from the government too much” because even people who are self-sufficient and wouldn’t be directly impacted by the cuts needed to get the budget balanced, aren’t really being given a reason to want it that means anything to them.
The point is, continuing to shriek and point to what has been for many years a dizzyingly high number just doesn’t accomplish anything anymore. The economy is good, the people are prosperous, and these are things that were at least implied wouldn’t be possible until we did something about that big big number.
Can the average voter really be blamed for starting to think that the debt, like climate change, has proven to be much ado about nothing?
At any rate, I hope that’s enough for a starting point for a discussion we really need to have. Are we as guilty as the climate change alarmists in trying to unduly scare people over something that is not as out of control as we portray it? And if not, how do we differentiate it in a way that actually means something to an ordinary voter?Published in