That Used to Be Us—Part III: The War on Math and Physics
Part III of That Used to Be Us starts with more bad news. Part I tells us that we underestimated the impact of globalization and the IT revolution. Part II says we failed to respond to the above by improving our educational system. Part III? Ditto for the deficit and energy and climate challenges.
“When the flattening of the world created not only two billion more competitors but two billion more consumers, . . . just when all the rising energy demand from all these new consumers was affecting the climate and food prices and creating the need for cheap, clean, renewable energy, and just when China recognized all this and began investing heavily in wind, solar, battery, and nuclear power, America dithered, delayed, and underinvested in energy and in the wider foundations of its economic growth.”
The section on ‘the war on math’ discusses debt and borrowing power (and shows that a company/country can have great debt and great borrowing power as well as long as it has the assets to pay the debt if suddenly called.) The authors argue that when the international monetary system known as “Bretton Woods” (dollar tied to price of gold/fixed international exchange rates) was collapsed—Nixon didn’t want the country to go through a recession to pay for spending on the Vietnam War—ballooning deficits had to follow, but it took time.
But it did happen, and deficits ballooned under Reagan. The authors take Dick Cheney to task over his comment, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.” They show that Reagan worried about deficits and called taxes ‘revenue enhancements’ in order to create them. Though deficits were reined in under Clinton, Alan Blinder, Princeton economist and former vice chairman if the Federal Reserve, is quoted from a Wall Street Journal essay as saying that “’The nation took leave of its fiscal senses, and simply stopped paying for anything during President Bush 43’s eight years.’” Under Obama, that deficit blew up.
The Republican Party takes a hit for a few pages, and then the authors turn on the Democrats—both are chastised for their willingness to enact policies that hurt the fiscal health of the country but that bolster their political careers and allies.
The authors believe that reductions in Social Security and Medicare are inevitable. We are not going to be able to spend so much for end-of-life care that doesn’t do anything but prolong the period of wasting away into death; we are going to have to take more responsibility for our health and not be so fat.
Across the board cuts to entitlements are required including in the defense budget.
Taxes must be raised, not just on the rich, but on the middle class as well. Tax loopholes must be closed.
The section on the ‘war on physics’ is about climate change. The authors indicate that climate change is a fact, and we need to stop pretending that it’s still a big question mark. They give examples and documentation from reports and scientists. There’s also a discussion of “low-probability, high-impact” events. (A phrase based on Dick Cheney’s discussion of Pakistani scientist and a 1% chance that they are helping Al Qaeda develop nuclear weapons. Here, it is turned around and used to discuss climate change. In general, Dick Cheney doesn’t come off very well with the authors.)
There are some examples of ways to make changes—one of the most interesting to me was that having the military use renewable power not only is environmentally sound, but can save many service men and women’s lives by avoiding roadside bombs to vehicles trucking fuel around.
The authors are telling us that the country needs oil-addiction rehab, but has refused to have an intervention because “The Democrats were cowardly and the Republicans were crazy. . . . The Democrats understood the world they were living in but didn’t want to pay the political price—alone—for adapting to it. The Republicans simply denied the reality of this world.”
Climate change will create an unstable world with a larger and larger population requiring greater global food production at the same time that global natural resources are stressed and water demand soars. California is commended for some sensible environmental policies that the country should adopt.
Part IV coming soon. Eventually, the positive stuff arrives.