Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Money for Nothing

 We're in the first week of the sequester. Right now not much of our daily lives have changed, though as time goes on that may drastically change. Understandably, there is a lot of hostility, mostly deserved, as to how our government has become dysfunctional--and, of course, lays the appropriate blame based on each individual's political preference.

While I think the sequester is a stupid idea stupidly executed, there's still a part of me that isn't all that sad. In a nutshell: things like this show that our system works, and we should be glad about it, even if the details infuriate us.

We all know that the American government isn't just the President. We have three separate yet equal branches of the government; to not have this system would, in effect, be a dictatorship, albeit one with a sunset clause of four years. All democracies in the world operate with some form of check against the chief executive, whether it be the dreaded Vote of No Confidence in a parliament to the Congress of the United States. We want this to be the case since we never want any one person--elected or not--to have unlimited, unchecked power.

This means, of course, that nearly all decisions must be part of some sort of negotiation. (Presidents do have, and use frequently, some limited powers they can execute without advisement, but in the grand scheme of things these are beside the point.) Any sort of lasting legislation--especially those involving budgetary figures--aren't just want the President or what the Speaker of the House proposes, but some cobbling together of ideas, acceptability, and resentful swallowing of pride of a minimum of half of the members of congress, plus one.

Of course, part of any negotiation is the threat of absolute failure. This applies to anything; this is how we get failed business deals (of which we usually don't hear of) or strikes and lockouts (which we normally do). The threat that if the deal doesn't go through something bad will happen is an integral part of the process. Otherwise, why would either side ever budge? Without the consequences of failure, both sides have an incentive to wait the other party out. If workers knew that the factory owners would never actually shut down, and the owners knew the workers would never walk away, then why would either ever settle?

Unfortunately, the threat of something bad happening necessitates that something bad actually has to happen on occasion to make it worth something. If workers always threaten to strike but never actually do, the threat becomes less and less potent. It's important to punctuate a history of smooth negotiations with the cold, hard reality of consequence for it to mean anything for the future.

And thus we have the current fiscal situation we are experiencing now. The sequestration is a good thing--in theory--because it shows that no one branch of our government is more powerful than the other. It's also showing us that the consequences of inactivity have true meaning and aren't just empty words.

Now the details of this specific incident--and the fiscal cliff, and the debt ceiling, etc.--I don't necessarily agree with. While I'm sympathetic to the details, I think each of these incidents was clumsily handled and artificially forced by the GOP, negating a lot of the benefit that they were hoping to reap. (The Democratic side isn't much better by ignoring a lot of pretty obvious signs that the shit is going to hit the fan sooner rather than later. And the fact that popular programs get cut first instead of unncessary or wasteful once is an obvious ploy for sympathy that I find ingratiatingly pedestrian.) So I think the details are stupid and politics at their worst.

And yet I don't think the consequences are so bad as that we can ignore the good things. Some people consider this a dysfunctional government and proof that Washington is a cesspool of prideful, arrogant jerks blinded by ideology. I don't think that's really the case at all; I think sessions like this, while lamentable, are also quite necessary. 

The Pledge: I think this is the price we pay for having a democracy--and in the grand scheme of things isn't a very high price to pay at all.

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