|Would Blanch Dubois ride|
a Cincinnati streetcar?
We Sons of Cincinnatus chose a rather eventful time to begin our site. Not long after we entered this world of blogging, the Supreme Court issued what we think will prove to be a dubious, controversial, and ultimately infamous ruling to uphold Obamacare. That has provided us with much posting fodder; indeed, nearly all of our posts so far have related in one way or another to the still-unpopular legislation.
But there are many other subjects worthy of discussion today. Some of them even have local implications. Take the Cincinnati streetcar, for example. For years, a measure bringing the streetcar into existence has been on referenda. It lost every time, until last November, when voters finally approved it, perhaps more out of sheer exhaustion or annoyance than anything else.
Unfortunately for streetcar supporters, even democracy has a rather well-defined limit: money. The city of Cincinnati, much like many cities in America right now (including some that have gone bankrupt), is dealing with onerous pension obligations that clearly outstrip available revenues. Cities, you see, can neither print their own money nor buy their own debt, so they have to be much more accountable for what they spent, unlike the Federal government.
|Cincinnati's last major attempt at mass public transit.|
Naturally, this thwarting of the people's will has streetcar proponents furious. After all, if politicians can't bring federal money back to their home districts, darn it, then what are they for?
This has been the assumption of politics for a while, but especially since World War II. Voters and politicians alike have enjoyed the fruits of a relentlessly expanding economy, allowing politicians to give away a lot of free stuff, and allowing voters to enjoy it, sort of like how the Roman Empire had plenty of money as long as it was expanding.
The money that streetcar proponents claimed Chabot robbed them of would essentially have been an earmark--business as usual in Washington for the past few decades. For the uninitiated: an earmark is a slice of federal spending that Congressional leaders use claim to use to convince legislators to sign onto bills--"greasing the wheels" is the common phrase. The process, though occupying a small portion of the Federal budget, is so notorious that lawmakers actually banned it. So why didn't Chabot just slip in a provision to fund the streetcar? Everybody else does it, and has been for years. Why not he?
|Because conformity is always a|
good argument (pictured: Chabot)
In other words, there are signs that the era of free stuff is coming to an end. The 2008-2009 recession played a huge part in this, as it did in Europe (though it is still in denial). The statistics about our national debt, though often-repeated, are an argument onto themselves.
Other thinkers have put it far more aptly than I. Here's Jay Cost, an editor for the Weekly Standard:
Sooner or later, America's bondholders are going to demand a serious deficit-reduction plan. When that day comes, Democrats will demand higher taxes to keep social-welfare benefits constant, and Republicans will insist on reforming social-welfare programs to keep taxes low. There will also be sharp disagreements over the level of military spending (with Democrats calling for substantially deeper cuts than the GOP will ever allow), as well as disputes about domestic discretionary spending (with the GOP similarly demanding greater cuts than the Democrats will ever accept). As each fiscal proposal attacks some sacred cow of the left or the right, Democrats and Republicans will eschew grand compromises and ratchet up the partisan rhetoric.And James Piereson, president of the William E. Simon Foundation and a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute:
Indeed, the gridlock of the current Congress over budgeting is a preview of what is to come. Quite simply, the two sides have not reached a grand bargain because no such bargain between them is possible. It should therefore come as no surprise that President Obama and Speaker Boehner have all but stopped speaking to each other, both having resolved instead to take the question to the voters at the end of the year.
The financial crisis and the long recession, with the strains they have placed upon national income and public budgets, are only the proximate causes of the political crisis now unfolding in the United States. The deeper causes lie in the exhaustion of the post-war system of political economy that took shape in the 1930s and 1940s. One pillar of that system emerged out of the New Deal with its emphasis upon national regulation of the economy, social insurance, expanding personal consumption, and public debt; the second emerged out of World War II with the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency and the U.S. military as the protector of the international trading system. The post-war system created the basis for unprecedented prosperity in the United States and the Western world. That system is now unwinding for several reasons, not least because the American economy can no longer underwrite the debt and public promises that have piled up over the decades. The urgent need to cancel or renegotiate these debts and public promises on short notice will ignite the upheaval referred to here as “the fourth revolution.” There will follow an extended period of conflict in the United States between the two political parties as they compete for support either to maintain the post-war system or to identify a successor to it.In short, both of these pundits argue that we are entering a new political era, but politicians, unsurprisingly, have not yet realized it. This new political era, in these pundits' understanding, will entail a government not limited by choice but by necessity, because there is simply not enough money to pay for everything.
No, something will have to give. Perhaps voters want the high-tax, high spend economy that President Obama truly desires, and which Europe has "perfected." But math has a very rude way of intruding on these things. We may all want a free lunch, but there is ultimately no such thing. Eventually, we shall have to inhabit a political climate in which politicians do not argue over what to give, but rather over what to take; our streetcar, also named desire, cannot last forever. And if recent political crises, such as the debate over raising the debt ceiling (the maximum of the government's credit card) foreshadow what this will be like, then God help us.
|Remember how the Roman Empire fell? It wasn't pretty.|