I’ve said it a million times: Life isn’t about options; it’s about decisions.You keep your options open too long and you’re asking for trouble. Decide. Go for it. If your decision turns out to be a mistake, don’t worry: This is why we invented regret. If you regret something intensely enough it’s the same as never have done it. (And don’t get me started on the miracle cure known as denial.)
As everyone knows, the U.S. government suffers chronic derangement from its internal divisions. As a result, the government struggles to make difficult decisions (a rare exception was September 2008, when the Republicans and Democrats agreed on the bank bailout — but only because they all thought it really was the end of the world).
Right now the government needs to decide to what degree it will cut spending and/or raise taxes. It’s a painful choice, and so the government has done what it always does, which is appoint a task force (congressional supercommittee) to study the options. Chances are, each option will be deemed too painful to enact, which is why there are these “triggers” that will cut the budget in the absence of an actual decision.
So let me amend my rule: Life is about decisions except when there are automatic triggers.
This next observation is nothing new, but it bears repeating: The debt crisis is not a simple matter of too much spending today and too little taxation today or some combination thereof today; it’s caused by a demographic and technological changes that are profound and are not going to go away simply because we don’t want to think about them. The problem is also the blessing: We live longer. We’re an aging planet. The world has never before been in this situation, at least to such a dramatic extent. Older folks now have at their disposal — potentially, if they can afford it — medical technologies that can either extend or enhance quality of life.
And I’m happy about that. Becoming old is very much on my list of things to do.
But this demographic and technological situation requires new thinking and prioritization. It requires decision-making about spending and taxes — and not more than just some compromise around the edges.
It’s hard, of course, to do anything when one of the two political parties has fetishized intransigence.
Note that Peter Orszag has said the most straightforward way to tackle the deficit would be to allow the expiration of all the Bush tax cuts, not just the ones for the wealthy. A politically toxic idea, probably, but one coming from a guy who has actually studied the numbers.
As Orszag put it: “Democrats who bemoan the role of the tax cuts in driving up the deficit but then favor extending the vast majority of them are suffering from cognitive dissonance.”
President Obama has drawn his own line in the sand: No one who makes less than $250,000 a year should have to pay more income tax. But Obama also wants to invest in the future of the country — education, science, green technology, infrastructure, while of course preserving the social safety net. You can’t pay for all that — plus the inexorably rising costs of entitlement programs in an aging society — by trimming some discretionary programs, cutting oil subsidies and raising taxes on millionaires.
Some people are saying that America is in decline. I don’t think the evidence supports so dramatic a conclusion. But I think we’ve got some tough decisions to make.