Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fractured Fairy Tales: The Grasshopper and The Ant

It has been some time since we have delved into the world of Fractured Fairy Tales, a lapse for which I heartily apologize. It seems that the Just Blowing Smoke librarian misplaced this tome during one of the inventory relocations of recent months. Rest assured that this lackadaisical lexicographer will be properly disciplined.

But enough of ancient history. It's time once more to journey to the land of "Once Upon A Time" for a twisted little tale about economic theory and reality as understood by two common pests.

Once Upon A Time (see I told you) in the land of YouAssAye there were an Ant and a Grasshopper who ran for Congress (and you thought it was only rats). Both were elected, and soon began to determine their party's fiscal policy within government.

The Ant said that government should be careful about spending everyone's hard-earned tax dollars. He told us that he would do everything in his power to
be more responsible and thrifty with everyone's money. He also told us that it was not the job of government to spend tax dollars in a vain attempt to protect taxpayers from all of the bad things that might happen to them.

Now many said that the Ant did this in order to pander to the richest in society, and to reassure them that as little of their money would be taken from them in taxes as possible. They said that by telling them this, the Ant was not only assuring their continued support to keep him in his cushy government job, but encouraging them to contribute to his campaigns to help him do so. (... and they might be right.)

The Grasshopper had an entirely different economic philosophy. (I know, who knew that Ants and Grasshoppers had economic philosophies? But heck, this is a fairy tale. Give me break here.) The Grasshopper understood that sometimes taxpayers fall on hard times and needed to be helped. He told us that life is hard and mostly unfair, giving most of the breaks (and money) to those who didn't deserve it. He told us government needs to be there to provide a safety net for those most in need and least able to take care of themselves; and to help redress the terrible injustice of unfairly distributed wealth in the YouAssAye.

Now many said that the Grasshopper did this in order to pander to the poorest in society, and to reassure them that whether they were in actual need or just simply lazy, the government would see to their every want and need. They said that by telling them this, the Grasshopper was not only assuring their continued support to keep him in his cushy government job, but encouraging them to contribute to his campaigns to help him do so. (... and they might be right.)

Strangely enough, no matter whether the party of the Ant or that of the Grasshopper was in charge, the government of the YouAssAye continued to spend more money than it was taking in. This was bad of course, but none of the money was actually theirs, and spending it on projects large and small made a great many people very happy (you know, like lobbyists, special interests groups, and sometimes even large corporations). So they went ahead and did it, and refused to think about what harm could come one day.

Some years were better than others and some were worse of course; but even when they used accounting tricks only allowed to governments (using them outside of government usually got you some time in secure government provided housing), there was no denying that the YouAssAye was getting further and further into debt as a nation. Finally the situation got so bad that people who rated debt thought it was too much and even those in government decided that something must be done.

The Ant told us that it was imperative that we stop this runaway train perpetrated on society by the Grasshopper, and only by putting him in charge was there any way to bring it to a halt before it went off the tracks. He told us that it wasn't a problem of revenue (taxes), but one of spending that only he knew how to best handle.

The Grasshopper told us that the train was indeed a runaway, but that it was the fault of the Ant. He said that it wasn't a problem of spending, but of revenue; and only by getting those who could afford it to pay their fair share could the impending wreck of this runaway train be prevented. He said that only he could prevent such disaster.

The truth of the matter is that both the Ant and the Grasshopper were right. There are economic realities that must be faced no matter how grim they are. There are likewise some people doing better financially than others and there always will be. There will also be some people who pay little or no taxes (both rich and poor), some people who pay a lot of taxes (mostly the top and middle earners who can't get Congress to rewrite the tax code with them as winners instead), and some people get more money back in tax refunds than they paid in (usually those who have learned how to best game the system).

There are also people that at times in their life need a little help in order to survive. The best way to do this of course, is to have those who choose to do so give a portion of their wealth in support of others. There are many groups to assist them in this and they mostly do an excellent job. Not only is it not the business of government (and I use that term in its broadest sense), to demand those contributions (taxes) at the point of a gun; or to pick the winners and losers in life; but if the truth be told, they do a lousy job of it.  Come to think of it, they do a poor enough job at the things they're supposed to be responsible for and cannot be trusted with matters of such far-reaching consequences.

As a rule in fact, the larger the group that attempts to solve such problems, the worse these solutions become. Governments (especially ones like that of the YouAssAye) are far too large, self-serving, and greedy to wield such authority. Their efforts, no matter how well intentioned, are usually doomed to fail. When not contributing to fraud, abuse, and waste; they overlook, misdirect funds, or reject out-of-hand the claims of the very people that require their help.

For all that Governments say that they care about people, the truth of the matter is that they don't. They care about growing in size, getting votes to stay in power, and controlling as much money (another name for power) as they can. The more we turn to them for solutions, the more power that we give them and the more we get away from the individual responsibility and freedom that make nations (and governments) truly great.

You know, sometimes I think that this is actually two different Fairy Tales told in two different languages that will never be reconciled.
For example: when the Ant talks about economic Darwinism where only the strongest will survive, the Grasshopper tells us that such a world cannot exist; and that if it did, that a loving and caring government (which many worship in place of a Supreme Being) must seek to change it. When the Ant talks about a world which must surely have a Supreme Being that orders and guides it (and they are not referring to government), the Grasshopper tells us that facts points to the truth of biologic Darwinism. Both are right and both are wrong, and the truth of the matter will probably never be reached by those who fundamentally and purposefully choose not to understand each other.

For while understanding the nature of the problem, coming to grips with it, and attempting to solve it are the right things to do; none of these things wins elections for either the Ant or Grasshopper.

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