Ship of Fools

Imagine that every person in the United States were aboard a large life raft, in the open ocean, amidst a hurricane.  In that circumstance how many of the nation’s factions would be pressing their special interests?  Would the environmentalists yammer on about “global warming"?  Or the political class about the likely composition of the presidential tickets in 2012?

Surely the answer to those questions is no.  In that situation the only issue that would be of interest to everyone aboard would be how to survive their predicament.

As it happens, everyone in the United States is aboard that life raft.  It’s called the USS Economy.  But because of their own tunnel vision and fundamental lack of knowledge, aided and abetted by the distracting, sententious, and superficial reportage of the media, the people still don’t fully realize it.

This country’s current and prospective fiscal and economic problems are of such a magnitude that if they are not satisfactorily addressed, and soon, the United States is at serious risk of evolving, at tremendous speed, from a prosperous and democratic country into a banana republic.

The evidence of this calamitous portent is not only easy to find, it’s coming in the windows!  It’s shown in the decline in GDP, employment, tax revenue at all levels of government, and in the growth of the national debt.  And these depressing data are reflected in the decline of virtually all asset classes as investors here and abroad reset their portfolios to the new and emerging realities. 

Nor is the threat of declining living standards and loss of opportunity the only thing we have to fear.  Though it’s noted almost never, the principal reason the United States won the Cold War is because our economy was bigger than that of the Soviet Union.  Because of this we were able to steer the course of commerce and technology around the world.  And because of this our military was bigger and better than the USSR’s.

But today it’s the Chinese who have the momentum in their economy — the same Chinese who, though they’ve adopted capitalistic economic reforms, much to their advantage, are still led by a corrupt and undemocratic political regime.  How long after the Chinese economy surpasses our own will it take before the Chinese military surpasses our own?

Despite these hard truths, too much of the media continue to misreport and under report the nation’s economic affairs.  Like a bakery offering everything from crullers to éclairs to donuts, they persist in delivering news that puts the trivial and fatuous on the same footing as the crucial.

Which is why I offer this modest proposal.  How about creating a national observance (call it Get Serious Week) during which all of the media, print and electronic, refrain from reporting on anything but the nation’s fiscal and economic challenges?  For one full week no stories, for instance, about professional sports (the true opiate of the masses); pop culture celebrities, quick or dead; or the campaigns of single-issue zealots who enjoy such a disproportionate claim on the media’s attention.

It would undoubtedly cost some eyeballs and ad revenue, but at a time when the concept of the “public interest” has been reduced to a cliché, it would be a refreshing demonstration of the virtue in the real thing.