Would You Like to Live in Greece?
A memorably unfortunate experience with ouzo and retsina notwithstanding, Greece was a lovely country when last I visited, but visiting Greece is probably a better option than living there, as the visitor is rarely subjected to the dysfunctional government or the consequences of its inability to pay its bills.
Greece has much in common with Italy, Spain and Portugal: none of them pay their bills because they can’t. In each country, clever elected officials have dealt out goodies to favored constituencies in trade for votes while keeping taxes lower than would be required to pay for the goodies.
The clever elected officials keep taxes low because, if they raise them sufficiently, all of the people with enough money to pay the taxes would quickly move elsewhere to avoid doing so. Also, those who prefer not to make a choice between paying very high taxes and moving elsewhere are, in most cases, bribing the clever elected officials with campaign contributions.
This plan — in England they would call it a scheme, which sounds delightfully nefarious — is sometimes known as the social contract. In general, it works fine until it doesn’t. Then the shit hits the fan, which most people think is bad except Paul Krugman who thinks it’s fine.
Inevitably, this leads to Maya MacGuineas, the long-suffering President of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB). Her job is to keep the United States from having the shit hit the fan. (The rest of the social contract described above has been in place for some time now.)
CRFB has existed for about 30 years and, after Senator Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles led a failed effort to reform the budget, it created Fix the Debt to monitor the glimmering embers of the torpedoed proposals.
Imagine Chicken Little with two changes: the sky is actually falling, but it is nearly impossible to describe. Also, it is unlikely to actually fall for a while yet. That is a pretty fair description of Maya MacGuineas, as she goes about her day trying to tell important people things they do not wish to hear.
The important people tend to work in Washington as congressmen, senators and members of the administration. These important people have the power to fix these money problems by cutting spending, fixing or abolishing programs and raising revenue before the debt becomes insurmountable. Unfortunately, doing these things now would necessarily require unpleasant actions to be taken while the current congressmen, senators and members of the administration are in office. These important people fear that doing so would preclude them from being congressmen, senators and members of the administration following the next election.
CRFB, Fix the Debt and Ms. MacGuineas are trying to put their thumbs on the scale to tilt it in favor of the 321 million Americans who believe it is the role of the congressmen, senators and members of the administration to govern the country in a thoughtful and prudent manner. Their opponents are the remaining 45,356 people (a reasonable approximation of the number of congressmen, senators, members of the administration and surrounding sycophants) who believe their role is to get reelected. If you add up the two numbers you get all of us according to the population clock on Tuesday afternoon June 9, 2015.
Guess who is not winning?
As the endless election process drones on, see if any of the candidates address issues related to debt and deficits. If they don’t and if you have a chance to ask them a question, ask them “Would You Like to Live in Greece?”
And, if we do end up living in Greece, stay away from the ouzo and retsina. Unlike federal debts and deficits those have immediate and understandable consequences.