Solvency or luxury—adapted from "The Madison Front" by Uche Ogbuji
Or modesty of revenue—
Campaigners seem to want all three
But most that they can have is two.
The above stanza is the crux of my poem, "The Madison Front," which was posted in Verse Wisconsin this weekend as part of their "Poems About Wisconsin Protests" series. It takes a critical look at all sides of the politics and economics of the Madison protests. There's also audio of my reading it, which in some cases will automatically play when you load the site. I'll try to figure out how to record better quality audio next time.
The bottom line is that I think all sides tend to miss the most important point, though no one more than Scott Walker and his supporters. Gutting union rights won't solve their fiscal problems. The only things that will are increasing revenue or reducing the overall standards of living to a point neither left nor right would be likely to accept. This is a fundamental problem throughout the U.S. Most of the talk about "small government" by folks such as the Tea Party is either vague, or focuses on institutions that offend right-wing social sensibilities and are yet the most infinitesimal fraction of spending. No one who insists on maintaining current levels of defense spending while sniping at environmental and educational institutions is in the least bit serious about budgets.
At the same time the left has lost its backbone. Despite steeply declining overall tax rates over the past century, right wing campaigners have succeeded in turning "tax" into a word so dirty even progressives fear to use it. I personally think it's a good ting that tax rates have declined, but I think it's common sense that there reaches a point where you reach the nerve bundle of the tradeoff in my stanza above.
No one in the U.S. seems to be calling the true debate. Are we willing to accept being the greatest military power in the world by just a small margin rather than by two or three times, or are we willing to sacrifice our standards of living to levels that would place us wel at the bottom of OECD league tables? No one seems interested in the latter, and I can understand that. I enjoy having a high per-capita standard of living. I think the crux of the debate, then should be in the matter of defense spending versus taxation, but everyone seems terrified to press this point forthrightly.
It's hardly unusual for the U.S. to have arrived in this situation. It's just the way of power in the world. As Samuel Johnson says in a famous quote:
There is a general succession of events in which contraries are
produced by periodical vicissitudes; labour and care are rewarded with
success, success produces confidence, confidence relaxes industry, and
negligence ruins that reputation which accuracy had raised.
—from section 21 of The Rambler by Samuel Johnson
And speaking of The Rambler, my search for the above image of Dr. Johnson (caught possibly in the eyes-open phase of winking and blinking) led me to a Weblog established by a gentleman inspired by the great Doctor's efforts. I've read a few of the entries and it's got a bit of The Copia about it. I'm always delighted to find a fellow journeyman.