October 15, 2012
“Anybody who wants the presidency so much that he’ll spend two years organizing and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office.” — David Broder
“If voting could actually change anything, it would be illegal.” — Noam Chomsky
Generally, I tend not to comment on elections, as I consider them to be largely unimportant. That is, regardless of which candidate is elected, the actual outcome tends to be much the same. In most countries, the higher the office being contested, the less real difference there is between the candidates.
First, unlike, say, a beauty pageant, in which the voter may have up to fifty contestants to choose from (as in the US), the governments of the world do all that is in their power to limit the choices to two contestants. Second, the more sophisticated the electoral system, the more likely it is that the two candidates are quite similar in both their level of ability and their apparent sincerity in serving the public who elect them. Third, the more apparent an issue is in the eyes of the voters, the less likely it is that the candidates will actually offer a specific plan to solve it.
In times of economic emergency, as the First World now finds itself in, these facts are even more apparent.
The facts should, in themselves, serve to inform voters that, in fact, it is not the primary goal of the candidates to actually “solve” the problem at hand. The goal is to accede to the throne. Once on the throne, the goal is to remain there. When exiting the throne, the goal is to do so with as favourable an image as possible.
For the candidates, solving the problem may be a secondary goal … but not necessarily. This is a very difficult realisation for the populace to accept.
The US election is the most prominent in the world media at the moment, as the world economy is in a shambles and so much depends upon the Americans with regard to how it will all turn out. They are the most powerful country in the world; their currency is the world’s default currency; they ostensibly hold seven million tonnes of gold in their Treasury (estimates differ significantly), plus an additional seven million belonging to European countries (again, estimates differ), and they have assured Europe that they will back up the EU in their quest to stave off their collapse.
There can be absolutely no doubt, at this point, that, if there is a central issue, nearly every voter has concluded that, “It’s the economy, stupid.” And justifiably so — the US government is essentially bankrupt. In such a situation, some will feel that taxes should be raised, whilst others will feel that further taxation will stifle growth. However, even if the income tax to the “one percent” were raised to consume the total incomes of that group, the proceeds would be insufficient to fund the government. At a time when the country has a debt load of sixteen trillion dollars that it cannot repay, and has additional unfunded liabilities of one hundred and twenty trillion dollars, both parties confirm that it is their intent to increase government spending (although the “conservative” party claims that it will increase spending less than the liberal party.)
There are those who believe that the US has gone past the point of no return and that a collapse of the monetary system is inevitable; however, it is likely that far more Americans would like to believe that, somehow, there can be a solution, and so they look to their candidates for an “answer.”
Let us suppose that the latter group is correct. If so, then the very first premise of this argument would necessarily be that both political parties genuinely want to reverse the situation; that they want to spend less, if they only could.
If this were the case, the very first consideration would be to eliminate waste. At any given time, there are hundreds, possibly thousands of government programmes that could be either cut back on, or eliminated altogether. Of course, studies would need to be done to identify waste in a thorough manner. In addition, not all voters would agree on what is wasteful and what is not. Democrats may feel that the staggering amount that is spent on “defense” is far beyond what is reasonable, whilst Republicans may say it is essential. However, those programmes do exist that all would agree, could easily be cut or eliminated. Indeed, there are programmes that, amazingly, may have no value whatsoever, yet demand considerable funding each year.
It therefore follows that, if either party were truly focused on keeping the economic train from running off the cliff that is ahead, surely, they would begin by eliminating these. Surely, these programmes should be major campaign issues, as they represent the quickest and most obvious place to begin to cut expenditure.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s look at only one of these — the Department of Energy. It has cost the taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars since it was created by President Carter in 1977. Its annual budget is over twenty four billion dollars and it employs sixteen thousand federal workers, plus over one hundred thousand contract workers.
Although most Americans realise that this department exists, few seem to know what its purpose is. It would be understandable, therefore, if they failed to understand whether or not the department would fall into the category of (a) essential, (b) expendable, or (c) a complete waste that should be done away with immediately.
So, here it is: The purpose of the Department of Energy is to lessen America’s dependence on foreign oil.
Let that thought sink in for a moment, bearing in mind that this is not just one of the Department’s interests, but its stated purpose.
The Department of Energy has, arguably, in its thirty five year history, failed entirely to deliver on its objective, yet has grown into a vastly expensive bureaucratic monster that expands annually. Surely, a government that had spending cuts in mind would begin with departments such as this one, taking immediate action, then working its way down the line with other departments, in accordance with their level of real contribution, if any.
Yet, such programmes are not even an issue. Whilst no one should be more aware of such waste than a candidate for Presidential office and no one should be more concerned with cost-cutting than a candidate for Presidential office, cost cutting is not even a matter for consideration. The candidates only dispute how much costs should increase.
Hence, neither candidate, neither party, intends to actually solve the central economic problem.
But, lest we be too unfair to the American government, let us not overlook the fact that, throughout the First World, the situation is largely the same. Although most countries do not have the enormous budget that the US has, their budgets, too, are growing annually. After all, this is the nature of governments — to grow themselves. Other countries do not spend as much money that they don’t have, as the US does, but that does not mean that they are more frugal. For example, a comparative description of, say, the UK and the US might be as follows:
The UK is the equivalent of someone with a gold credit card who is maxed out at Marks & Spencer and planning to spend more, as compared to someone with a platinum card, who is maxed out at Harrods and planning to spend more.
The US is the equivalent of someone with a gold credit card who is maxed out at K-Mart and planning to spend more, as compared to someone with a platinum card, who is maxed out at Saks and planning to spend more.
Whether we look at Greece, Spain, France or any other First World country, the formula is the same. All that differs is the number of zeros on their relative debts.
The lesson to be learned from this is that, in the final end, those who are running for office, regardless of their party affiliation, invariably claim, “I sympathise with the average guy out there. I understand how hard this economic situation is for you,” yet, this is far from true. In fact, neither party has the slightest intention of cutting waste — waste that is in the billions and possibly trillions. As much as the average voter would like to believe that one candidate or the other “might have the answer,” neither one has any intention of effecting a true solution. They offer, instead, to increase the very cause of the problem — government spending.
And, if we look this conclusion straight in the eye, what then? Do we then say, “Well, then, all is lost”? Hopefully not. Hopefully, we take the difficult decision to say, “Neither party will solve the problem. That means that it is up to me to provide my own future.
Some First World residents may find a way to remain where they are and still have a good future, even if it is somewhat diminished from what they now enjoy. Others may consider the fact that the entire world is not at the cliff edge and are actually doing rather well economically. Many will consider planting flags elsewhere.
Sometimes the wisest course is to choose not to wait for the storm to hit, but to move away from the storm.