The Baltimore Sun’s editorial on the political posturing over the critical issue of the national debt ceiling highlights how silly our elected politicians are. It provides them a perfect stage (”Eliminate the debt ceiling: It doesn’t help balance the budget and only risks financial ruin,” Oct. 7).
The appropriate amount of national debt has no scientifically “correct” answer. Some people, perhaps influenced by the personal tragedies of losing everything in the Great Depression, believe a balanced budget is necessary. Others concur, intuitively believing that one must live within their means. Yet other people consider debt, or leverage, to be a reasonable and appropriate financial tool that enables a more efficient use of “capital” — homeowners and businesses being prime examples. They note that this country has been in debt for almost its entire existence and has become recognized as the greatest international economic success story of the past century.
Nonetheless, countless governments have fallen when their currency loses the confidence of the public, often caused by printing too much money. Our economic science has no prescription for when this “tipping point” is reached, at least in part because it is subjective. Instinctively, it is likely a function of the gross domestic product but because, ultimately, it is based on perceptions that are subject to exploitation by political and economic rivals, there simply is no clear objective answer.
And so, with neither side able to marshal factual support for their position, it becomes the perfect toy for the silly politicians to achieve their goals. And, as the editorial points out, the public’s recourse is to elect better politicians. However, that is a (perhaps impossibly) heavy task. Even if complete and accurate information about the candidates’ values and views were available to the public, we no longer actually elect individuals. Candidates’ parties have become, all too often, more important than their personal views.
How the party dictates an officeholder’s views as can be seen by the now almost absolute party-line voting in Congress. Indeed, the strength of the national parties is so great that it is now influencing local elections with presidents and ex-presidents exhorting their followers to support particular candidates. The old adage that “all politics is local” has been replaced with something that is ominously redolent of “power corrupts and absolute power” (such as the parties seem to now possess) “corrupts absolutely.”
Our partisan politics is demonstrating that sentiment as the parties themselves have become more important and powerful than the people they are elected to serve.
Michael MacKay, Lutherville
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