Thursday, February 7, 2013

Politics, Dieting, and "One Weird Trick"

Some things are never painless

We fear change, but rust never sleeps. (What?)  Aside from "Wayne's World" and Neil Young, I guess I could fling some FDR at you:
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is ... fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.
At the start of Roosevelt's first term as president, the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. Though there are other terrific lines in the speech – "This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously" – Roosevelt ends up blaming business and banks for the economic calamity, offering a remedy of big government.

If you've read this blog or Gibson4congress2012, you know that I don't subscribe to the "all government is bad" school of thought. Instead, I'm a right-sized-government guy who believes in the value of free markets and public goods.

A "leadership of frankness" is something we long for but have lacked. We don't elect leaders but politicians who are not frank.  Are we flawed? Do we vote for the moment and in self interest rather than for posterity and shared benefit?

For those already elected, politics is about the status quo and getting reelected; it's about reacting to crises (real and perceived) and pandering to the electorate rather than leading and building a better, more efficient government. OK, that's a bit cynical. But there is no painless solution, no "one weird trick" to the political and economic challenges we face. Instead it's about good government and supporting competitive, self-correcting markets. It's not about a hyperactive legislature but compromise and movement.

Dieting isn't tricky: it's hard work to rebalance input and output. Likewise fiscal discipline can't be "tricked up" with sequesters, balanced-budget amendments, and no-budget-no-pay gimmicks: it's plain ol' hard work determining needs and setting priorities while establishing an equitable, efficient, and expected revenue stream.

Change is painful but it's also inevitable. The product of inaction is decay. Better to move forward with honesty and reason than fade away into an ignominious irrelevance.