From the time I fell out of the back of Mrs. Oestricher’s station wagon dressed as a ghost, aged 6, I have never liked Halloween. I like it even less this year, thinking there might be some nasty ‘event’ right about now, as the warnings suggest.
So let’s start with a few good thoughts.
- One obvious one is that we might at least have a better relationship with Russia and China, as a result of this mess, gradually bringing them ever closer to the kind of free, prosperous societies that make such good planetary neighbors. It may not happen, but who would have imagined the Iron Curtain falling in our lifetime, either?
- Another hopeful sign, as explained by Michael Ledeen writing in the Wall Street Journal, are the largely-ignored riots now ongoing in Iran. They may have significance far beyond soccer. In case you missed it, click here.
- And then there’s always the possibility of a cutback in junk mail. Oh, happy day. (I don’t see how it would do much good in terms of the crisis, but I am hoping for an Executive Order nonetheless.)
I can come up with some bad thoughts as well – the gloomy economic scenarios are as easy to conjure as the scary life-threatening ones – but I am an optimist and, in any event, there is little to be gained by dwelling on our fears. Yes, you think through scenarios and do what you can to prepare – a two- or three-week supply of everything you might need in the unlikely event of some temporary disruption, just as with a hurricane or an earthquake or a flood. (I love my solar-or-crank-powered radio-flashlight!) But beyond that, what are you going to do? It seems to me we almost have an obligation not to let this get to us – to count our blessings rather than our losses or our fears, considering how much better off most of us are than just about anyone in the history of the world.
(You want nightmare? How about the Battle of Somme in 1916, when the Earth’s population was less than a third what it is today. It lasted for months, and when it was finally over, the British, I’ve read, were still three-miles short of their first-day objective. In the meantime, they had lost 419,654 men; the Germans, perhaps 600,000.)
Where I do get just a tad frustrated, though, is in what we seem to be doing to ourselves.
- Given our dependence on foreign oil and our truly massive balance of trade deficits, you might think we’d triple our spending on alternative energy research – yet we’ve halved it. (Hint: this was not done at the behest of the minority Party.)
- Given the extraordinary gains the wealthiest few made – after tax – in the previous eight years, handily outpacing the percentage improvement in income experienced at every lower level, you might think we would have directed our “massive surpluses” (you know, the ones some quite confidently assured us would stretch as far as the eye can see) to paying down the debt, to cutting taxes for those struggling to get by, to improving our schools, to providing health insurance to those of our fellow citizens without it. Instead, we decided to shave the top rate of the estate tax – a tax paid exclusively by the best off – from 55% to 53% . . . no, wait, to 48% . . . no, wait, to . . . to . . . zero. I assume this will be repealed before it fully phases in at the end of the decade, but that’s how the law now reads: zero.
- (Sure, let’s raise the exemption from $675,00 to $2.5 million or $5 million and link it to inflation. That would eliminate the tax on almost everyone. But on Warren Buffett, whose estate will total tens of billions? He’s the first to argue that this is terrible social policy.)
- Given, finally, what could be a doozey of an economic slowdown, you might think Republican leaders in the House would have come up with a package of nicely focused temporary economic stimulus. Instead, it has come up with permanent tax cuts for corporate America. Paul Krugman wrote it far better last week than I ever could. Forget falling out of the back of a station wagon. What really scares me is the relentless drive – already highly successful after barely 10 months – to tilt the balance of hardship and good fortune even more heavily in favor of those in the First Class cabin. Or, often as not, in the private jet.
Quote of the Day
I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year.~The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957
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