Archive - Jan 6, 2011

Ceiling Our Fate

« January 2011 »

Memo to the wingnuts: A NAME IS NOT A THING.

Six years ago, I started You Are Dumb Dot Net based on one simple principle. Dumb people ruin things for the rest of us. Well, dumb people may be more literally trying to ruin things for the rest of us than at any time in the past six years.

You see, there's this thing. It's called the "debt ceiling". It's a tiny, statutory piece of the way the US government funds itself. Been around since 1918. It's been raised dozens of times since then, by Democrats and Republicans. The reason it keeps getting raised is because if it doesn't, the government defaults on its debt.

Now, the bank doesn't loan you money because it likes you. The bank loans you money because that's how it makes money. Similarly, nobody loans the US money because they like us. They loan us money because they know we're good for it. We make our payments on time. If we make our payments on time, everybody's happy. If we don't raise the debt ceiling, we stop making our payments on time, and nobody's happy.

Now, "raising the debt ceiling" has taken on a certain mystique amongst certain circles, most of them stupid. Because of the simple way it's named, simple people have come to the conclusion that it's a simple thing, and that if they can stop Congress from raising the debt ceiling, the country will hit that magical ceiling, bounce back, and turn into a magical small-government wonderland where the government "lives within its means", no matter how many times Republicans shrink those means by giving tax breaks to the rich and corporate.

These simple people and their simple arguments work because they have a simple audience for whom simpleness resonates much more strongly than accuracy. And nobody illustrates that more than South Carolina's Mick Mulvaney, one of the leading dim lights crusading against the raising of the ceiling. ACTUAL QUOTE TIME!

"Well, I don’t know. I’ve asked that question, I’ve asked that question a lot. I’ve heard Goolsbee on Sunday say it’d be catastrophic, I’ve heard others say that. I’ve asked the question what does that mean? What does catastrophic mean?" - Mulvaney, when asked what would happen if the ceiling isn't raised.

Well, there you have it. You have one person who says it'll be catastrophic if this happens, and one person who doesn't want it to happen because he doesn't know what "catastrophic" means. It means bad. Default would be bad. Austin Goolsbee, being an economist, knows how bad it would be, which is why he used the word "catastrophic", which is like bad, only worse.

Now, there is a way to not raise the debt ceiling and not default. The government just has to stop spending money so that it doesn't go over the limit. That's what happened in 1995, when Gingrich, in a proto-teabag move, got Congress to not raise the debt ceiling. So 40% of the government was shut down until a deal was struck. Now, thanks to tax cuts and wars, odds are we'd have to shut down even more than 40% of the government in order to prevent a default that would wreck the global economy. Which would also be catastrophic.

You see, the government does shit. And that shit costs money. Some of that money buys things, and a lot of that money pays people to do things. Those people then go out and spend money in the private sector. When Gingrich shut down the government, the economy was in pretty damn good shape, all things considered, and it was still a clusterfuck that turned America against the Republicans for years.

But these are complicated arguments. Or, at least, more complicated than morons like Mulvaney can understand. So I propose that the Democrats put forth a new argument, one that makes as little sense as the teabagger argument, but pulls as many emotional strings amongst the simple-minded.

You know those birds? The hundreds of birds that fell out of the sky, dead? Well, we found out why they died. They hit the debt ceiling. The low debt ceiling is MURDERING FLOCKS OF INNOCENT BIRDS, and must be raised to prevent horrible accidents like this from happening again.

I know it's ridiculous. I know it's counterfactual. But so is the idea that the government budget is like a household budget, and must be managed exactly like a household budget, except for the part where households borrow money to pay for large investments like houses, cars, and college, and pay that money back over time with interest. If that disingenuous bullshit can gain traction in modern-day America, then goddammit, so can my "debt ceiling kills birds" theory. We just all have to act like we believe it until we get our way.

I know it sounds difficult, but if we haven't learned it by now, after watching decade after decade of other people doing it, then I guess we'll be ruining things for the rest of us, too.