DOWNSIZING

Today I get to play Nostradamus and predict the future, always a hazardous enterprise. My method? A magical crystal ball I keep under my bed. Kidding aside, there is already enough “magical thinking” in Washington and even on Main Street for us all, so I’ll base my predictions on the fundamentals—and they don’t look good.

It seems to me that, with a few notable exceptions, conventional thinking still rules the day. There is talk of “recovery” and now “winning the future,” but I see only a glimmer of hope in terms of the mandatory, and difficult steps needed to effect such a change. A lot of rhetoric is out there about cutting spending, but when the President speaks to a “freeze” at current levels, I roll my eyes (actually curse under my breath; but this is a family-oriented blog) and realize nothing has changed. Freezing spending at current levels, while putting a lid on runaway increases, simply locks in the wanton behavior that helped get us into this mess (and no, I’m not laying it all at Obama’s feet). Other than a few voices, I’m waiting for a serious call for reducing spending to 2008 levels or, even better, 2005 or 2003. With the bloated government workforce, there will be a lot of economic pain, but only an echo of what is to come if we continue to head down the road we’ve built (with your hard-earned tax dollars).

I’ve mentioned before how I’ve heard that 1600 baby-boomers a month are entering Medicare. This week Neil Cavuto cited our national debt service at $4 billion a day—yes, a day! I hear that the “discretionary spending” that everyone’s so hot to reduce amounts to only 12% of our budget, with national defense, servicing the debt, and health care as well as social security making up the bulk of our obligations. Now, we can’t default on servicing the debt or we’ve declared bankruptcy as a nation. With the Islamic fundamentalist threat growing in the world and the U.S. in the crosshairs, there is only so much cutting we can do in that arena (although some could make cogent arguments for a very different U.S. role in the warzones). So it’s inevitable that cuts in medical care and social security are coming. Before that happens, I’d like to see, as a sign of sea change, some of the unnecessary programs in Washington cut, such as the Departments of Education and Energy, even if that is a drop in the bucket. It would send the message, “Yes, we know, we’re in crisis.” And we are: the greatest free nation the world has ever known is in debt to the largest dictatorship the world has ever seen—China. Ultimately, we’re selling our freedom for flatscreen T.V.s.

How will this all shake out? One acquaintance believes that when the collapse comes (assuming we don’t radically change course, and that appears less and less likely), we will evolve into a system of more local, micro-economies. Barring Armageddon, this seems a likely progression—a return to a  smaller, more personal world, still linked by the Internet. And maybe a return to the extended family?

One can only hope.

Next: More on the world of the future

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