Say Ah, wilderness

BY BEAU ELLIOT | JULY 12, 2011 7:20 AM

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Objects of art are closer than they appear.

Yeah, I know — nobody’s talking about objects of art this summer. Well, except for the Iowa City Summer of the Arts people, and the Riverside Shakespeare people (Should that be wandering in Eugene O’Neill’s wilderness people?), and the Iowa Summer Rep people. And they may be excused, because art is what they do, while the rest of us wander in the wilderness of debt and deficit.

OK, let’s be honest. Most of us are not spending the summer wandering in the wilderness of debt and deficit, because that’s a quite boring wilderness. Who knew that a wilderness could slay you with ennui?

Hegel, apparently.

And, it seems, our political leaders have a pretty good idea about ennui and wilderness — though I use the word “our” advisedly, because there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of “our” in America these days, especially when it comes to politics.

Which puts us splat back in the wilderness of debt and deficits.


But the food fight going on in Washington, D.C., these days over raising the U.S. debt limit and what to do about the deficit — well, OK, “food fight” is far too polite a description. As are some of the other terms being bandied about, “political theater,” for instance, or “political circus,” the latter of which has a particular resonance in Iowa these days. (Does that mean it’s time to send in the clowns?

Oh, wait — we already did that, in November.

What is the big deal about the debt limit? you ask. And why can’t we go play disc golf?

I’m not sure what the big deal is. I mean, Congress has raised the U.S. debt limit 102 times in approximately the last 94 years, according to NPR. The public-radio network also reports that Congress raised the debt limit eight times during the George W. Bush administration and three times so far during the Obama administration. So, the members of Congress, including the Republicans, are no strangers to raising the limit.

So why won’t the Republicans agree to raise the limit? you ask. Because President Obama wants them to raise the limit. If Obama came out against raising the debt limit, the Republicans would vote to raise it faster than you can snap your fingers.

In any case, the concept of the debt limit is not one of the beloved foundations of the republic. The limit did not even exist before 1917, which means that for (depending on how you count at home) 141 years or 134 years or 128 years, the republic got along just fine without the debt limit.

So what happens if Congress does not raise the limit? you wonder.

Thank you for asking. Cataclysm, apparently. At least according to many experts. The U.S. defaults on its debt, the whole world falls into another recession, the Chinese buy the entire world, global warming speeds up, and another Ice Age begins, simultaneously.

I’m not exactly sure about all of the details.

But NPR did report that in April and May of 1979, because of what were described as technical reasons, the U.S. did default on some $120 million of its debt (the total debt was $800 billion at the time), and the interest rate that the country had to pay rose by 0.6 of 1 percent.

Which doesn’t sound like all that much, until you consider that 0.6 of 1 percent on $800 billion is $4.8 billion — which rather dwarfs that $120 million.

Say Ah, wilderness.

You know, you’re right — disc golf sounds pretty good right now.

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