The Endless Bummer

Matt MIller wonders if we haven’t entered a period in which we have a stable political equilibrium that will induce a continuing series of “fiscal cliffs”:

Here’s the scenario. Recall that all this started in the summer of 2011, when gridlock in the debt talks and the later breakdown of the supercommittee led to creation of the cliff we now face. It seems almost certain that any new deal that is struck, either before January 1 or some time afterwards, will involve some minor near-term “action” or “down payment” combined with the creation of a new fiscal cliff of unpleasant consequences to be triggered sometime in 2013 if a broader deal on tax and entitlement reform is not reached.

This, because a divided Washington needs “a forcing device” to instigate action.

But what will have changed later in 2013 to produce a different outcome? Arguably nothing. And so we have the prospect of another deal with illusory progress later in 2013, along with the creation of the next forcing device. Which eventually forces the next sham deal and the creation of the next forcing device.

And so on. Endless forcing devices that force the creation of new forcing devices. Cliffs that bequeath future cliffs.

His solution: one party rule. That would be hunky dory if either party were proposing measures that would pull us back from the brink in some sort of sustainable way but they aren’t. Does anybody really believe that raising the marginal tax rates on the highest income earners to 99%, cutting defense spending to, say, Germany’s level, and subsidizing “green energy” companies and industrial unions will restore robust growth to the economy? How about cutting personal income tax rates, increasing defense spending, abolishing Social Security, and turning Medicare into a voucher program?

The whole would be greater than the sum of two sane, temperate parts. The sum of two radicalized parts, more interested in sticking it to their political opponents than resolving the country’s problems, is bupkis.

6 comments… add one
  • steve

    I am not so sure. Probably for a while, but if a party really had a safe majority, they would also be held responsible for their actions. Look at what happens in parliamentary governments. Now, we have parties proposing and passing bills in one House that they know cannot pass in the other. it is perfectly safe for them to play to their own crazies. It also avoids a primary challenge from one’s own ideological base.


  • Chicago has had unchallenged single party rule for more than fifty years. It also has among the worst schools of any large American city, a budget crisis, high taxes, a weakening economy, crumbling infrastructure, virtually proverbial corruption, and high priced healthcare. If single party rule were the solution, the Soviet Union, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and al-Assad’s Syria would be the epitomes of prosperity and well-being for their peoples.

    But keep trying! I’m sure it will work eventually.

  • Mark

    Dave, was it intentional that you lumped Chicago as an example of single party rule along with the USSR, Saddam Hussein, and Assad?

  • jan

    …” but if a party really had a safe majority, they would also be held responsible for their actions.”

    I think you are wrong in assuming this.

    Once a party has a majority, they call their policies mandates. And, if the mandate doesn’t produce the effects they promise, more often than not they want more of the same, calling it more of a measurement error, rather than an application of the wrong policy. Just look at the monetary stimulus of ’09, which didn’t live up to it’s heady promises — lowering the UE rate into the six’s by 2012, an economy that was growing etc. And what does the same party want to do in 2013? — inject another stimulus, and basically carbon-copy it’s failed policies, of the past 4 years, recreating them for the next 4 years — extending social programs to enlarge the already huge safety net at the expense of individual freedoms; spending more worker’s money; taxing workers more to cover the spending; create more bureaucracies covered by more rules and regulations to govern a more restricted and monitored populace.


    Once people get used to a certain way of life, involving goverment overreach resulting in a misery index increase, such bad policy will nevertheless be stitched into the fabric of people’s lives and will be very difficult to pull out — unless there is a lot of pain and upheaval. Look what is happening over in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood got their man, Morsi, in power. People freely chose him to be their next leader. Now that he is trying to become the next dictator, rather than a democratic leader, people are revolting. He will only be thwarted by more pain and suffering, not by someone like Morsi taking responsibility for a bad call, and a new leader smoothing taking his place.

  • Andy


    Of course the problem with your comparison is that those other “single party” states maintained single-party power through organized state violence. What’s Chicago’s excuse?

    That’s one thing I’ve never understood about the Windy City – for all the complaints I hear about Chicago governance, it never seems to get bad enough for the people of Chicago to do anything about it.

  • it never seems to get bad enough for the people of Chicago to do anything about it.

    Until fairly recently Chicago’s system worked or, at least, appeared to. Now it’s starting to fail, rapidly.

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