Thursday, February 23, 2012

An Open Letter to Public Servants

Dear Representatives,

Thank you for all of your good intentions.  I mean that sincerely.  Most of you, I think, are just trying to do what is best for everyone (constituents first of course, and you cannot really help but pay more attention to the loudest constituents, i.e. the richest and/or the most obnoxious).  I understand enough about your position to know that it is not an easy one.  I want to do what I can to make it easier.  So here goes.

First off, know that I do not really consider you my representatives.  A real representative is someone I engage to present my point of view (like a lawyer I hire to represent me in court or a business associate who represents my interests to a third party).  The vast majority of you, including those in whose district(s) I reside, do not do that.  And let's be honest: with some 300 million people in this country, how could you?  It would not be responsible to let the concerns of a single constituent override those of his fellows (who number in the thousands or millions, depending on what level of the government hierarchy you occupy).  We like to pretend that every individual has political power as an intrinsic right, but the truth is that he doesn't (and hasn't for a pretty long time: our country started its life as a republic, not a democracy, and the people with the most power here have always been the lucky few who were wealthy and/or well-placed).

So now that we have done away with the fiction that you really care what I have to say, I am going to go ahead and offer some thoughts anyway.  I won't be surprised if you ignore them entirely.  But it will make me feel better to get them off my chest, and maybe some of you will take a human interest in the candid ideas of a random constituent.

I have a few quaint ideas about the way government should be.  On a good day (in my ideal world), you guys keep us from waking up murdered in our beds (or raped or robbed).  On a really good day, you do nothing (because no one is being attacked: this doesn't mean that you sit at your desks twiddling your thumbs; you get a life outside of government, and a good day gives you time to pursue it uninterrupted, doing something that is actually useful).  You don't run hospitals (or give out medication).  You don't run schools (or give out education).  You don't fight wars unless they are inevitable (e.g. Mexican tanks just crossed the border with Texas).  You don't even (necessarily) keep the roads going (though if you want the job, maybe we could let you have it, provided that you do it as well as or better than your competition).  You are there (particularly at the federal level) as a last resort, when all other systems break down.  You are not the front line.  No one depends on you unless they have nowhere else to turn (I do mean nowhere), and when they do turn to you, at last, they want you to keep them from being killed (or raped or robbed): they don't expect you to give them easy money (whether through tax breaks or sinecure "jobs" or unemployment benefits or Ponzi schemes disguised as healthcare or bailouts of bankrupt industries whose time of profitability has passed: these are all fundamentally the same thing--you rob Peter to pay Paul and then flash a badge so that we know better than to resent the theft).

I recognize that my pipe dream is not universally popular, and I am willing to concede that it may never be practically feasible (at least not as I have written it here).  But you need all the alternative governmental models you can get at this point, considering how you are running your current gig into the ground.  As matters stand, none of you seems to understand what it means to do good business (or in other words, provide real public service).  I can forgive this, since it seems many of our businessmen (particularly those who cross paths most with you) are similarly handicapped.  Let me clue you in: you need to generate income, and the income you generate should exceed or at least equal your outflow.  I think you already know this.  Unfortunately, your understanding never moves beyond the abstract balance sheet to the concrete realities that that sheet represents.  You think that as long as the numbers on the sheet line up (no matter how sloppily), everything is hunky-dory.  So you come up with some really creative mathematics--so sloppy that they don't even fool you all the time--and back them up with this really cool thing called the Federal Reserve that lets you conjure money out of thin air.  The only problem is that eventually, that money has to buy stuff in the real world.  It has to stand for something.  Right now, it stands for labor and the fruits of labor (commodities like food, clothing, shelter).  You give me money, and I work for you (on the understanding that the money you give me can be exchanged for the fruit of someone's labor).  You seem to labor under the illusion that all economic woes are a matter of your ability to create and mobilize money, forgetting that money is only useful insofar as it represents other things that are really useful.  Let me give you a little reality check.

Your creative math and Federal Reserve don't make more people (just more money to be spread out among however many people already exist).  Your creative math and Federal Reserve do not create opportunities for profitable labor that don't already exist.  This is an important thing to notice.  Money only represents opportunities that already exist: if I was stranded on a desert island with no resources at all except for an infinite supply of money, I would die (unless I could jerry-rig some kind of paper-mache boat, using the money as a commodity rather than as money).  Thus, your creative math and Federal Reserve don't make more commodities (just more money to be paid for whatever commodities someone else has already created or will create in future).  Every time you make more money out of thin air, as you continue to do in an effort to support the illusion that our country is really rich, you are promising the world that taxpayers like me are going to give them more and more profitable labor: at some point in the increasingly near future, assuming present trends hold, you will have sold me and my kids into perpetual bondage to service your runaway debt (we will be building pyramids while you "supervise" at a convenient distance, ensconced in your ivory tower).  I don't appreciate this (to put it mildly).

A word about economic stimulus, which you often invoke to make complaints like mine go away.  The idea that spending money makes things better is ridiculous, just about as ridiculous as the idea that demand drives supply (if this were true, Haiti would be rich and Switzerland would be broke: please stop listening to idiots like Paul Krugman and read some history or at least some real economists, like Jean Baptiste-Say).  Paying billions of dollars to save bad businesses does not do anyone any good in the long-term: the idiots will just run the ship aground on the same rock.  Read some history (again).  Humpty Dumpty never learns, and you will never be smart enough to put him together again (no matter how many horses and men you have).  Really useful "stimulus" is about learning to do for oneself and others in fundamental ways.  A good builder will never be homeless, as long as there are natural resources and tools available; a good secretary is useless outside of the office.  And yet, your economic plan seems to be for everyone to go to secretary school (on loans you generate from thin air), to work as little as possible for a large salary (necessary to pay the loans), and to retire early on a hefty pension (just like public servants in Greece: how's that working for them, by the way?  Is burning Athens to the ground just their way of providing necessary opportunities for future growth, i.e. the latest economic stimulus?).  What a load of bullshit.  

As I understand the situation, you are technically bankrupt right now: the only reason you haven't gone the way of Lehman Brothers or Greece is that people have this faith that you will revive.  They could be right: you might still turn things around.  But current trends say that you will not.  What are you doing now?  Well, you just gave your employees a nice bonus (which my kids will be happy to pay for when the time comes, I'm sure).  You remain committed to your role as world bully (oops, I meant to say policeman), despite the waste of resources (not to mention the acrimony) that this causes at home and abroad.  (Anything for the greater good, right?  Is that how you plan to deal with the debt crisis ultimately, by holding a gun to somebody's head?  Just remember that even Don Corleone doesn't always get what he wants: the fact that I would love to offer Newt Gingrich a mansion on the moon doesn't mean that I am able to deliver.)  And you are now fighting furiously amongst yourselves to determine some very important issues like, "Should we spend the money we don't have on contraceptives or Bibles?  Should we let gay people call their unions marriages or not?  Should we bail out this stupid business or that one?"  Seriously?  It's amazing how passionate you are about this stuff.  Great show.  One would almost think that these decisions really mattered, that they were something more than re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic (I am stealing this metaphor from Mark Steyn, I think, but I thought of it well before he came out in print with it).  No matter who you are, you have to get your own crap together before you try to clean up everybody else's.  And yours isn't remotely together.  It's scattered all over, and it smells terrible.  Please, stop quibbling about nonsense and just balance the budget already, before nature has her way with you, and you become the next Greece.  As much as part of me would like to see you held really accountable (for once), I don't want that for you (at least not as long as my kids represent part of your economic assets).

One last word, and then I'm through.  The worst thing about your position is that you cannot win the way you want to.  You cannot please everybody.  You have to piss somebody off.  I understand that.  If it comes down to it, I am willing to be the guy you throw under the bus (what choice do I have, honestly?).  But what I am not willing to do is listen quietly to any more stupid lies.  There is nothing I or anyone else can do to guarantee that I have life, liberty, or happiness.  You can pass laws all day.  You can print money till the dollar is worthless.  Until you aren't broke, none of your promises mean anything to me.  Until you stand for something other than the party line ("this is what we all say around here to get elected"), I don't care who you are, and I will not be voting for you (I'm one of those "apathetic" voters who fail to turn out when the election is to decide whether we are to be raped by an ass or an elephant: it amounts to the same thing).  Until you are willing to put some skin in the game (e.g. take a principled stand and then stick to it even when your career dies as a result), I do not respect you (though I will certainly obey the law to the utmost of my ability; I respect human values, including those that conduce to peaceful life in society).  You do not have to agree with me to earn my respect.  You do not have to cater to me, trying to buy me with non-existent benefits or the illusion of impossible growth.  You just have to tell me the truth, and stand by it.  Stop pretending like we're all going to be OK no matter how bad things are.  Stop pretending like you have all the answers.  Stop pretending that the answer is handing out more money to your friends (as opposed to the other guy's friends, as though it matters whether you steal to support gays or Catholics, rich or poor: the bottom line is that more thieves always means fewer really useful craftsmen).  Just stop.


John Q. Public

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