Nikk: Well, what other questions can you possibly ask, or what else would you like to know? I have plenty of time...
Bret: Where do you see the US in 10, 20 and 50 years?
Nikk: I’m going to attempt to eat a giant chocolate chip cookie before I answer that.
Nikk: Okay, cookie was too big. I had to break it up into smaller pieces. Just like the U.S. is too big, both geographically and in population. You can’t effectively govern such bigness from a single capital city. In ten years I see the US as a dying superpower, with such massive debt that it must pull out of its overseas military operations. In 20 years, either some form of temporary stability through real reform, or a strong man named Bret Alan comes to power to “solve” our problems [editor’s note: not a role I ever want, and not something I imagine I will ever have to worry about being offered]. In 50 years, I think the country will be broken up into smaller, independent states.
Bret: So which state will attack another first when we break up? My money is on Texas invading Calizona. No no, Calizonada. Hmm…. or Calizonadagon… ooh and Texahomsas.
Nikk: Don’t mess with Texas! I’ve known a couple of people who’ve moved there. They like it. No one will attack; they’ll have learned the foolishness of such things by the failures of the old Federal government’s invasions.
Bret: See, I disagree. European history indicates that people don’t “learn” that lesson. As does Chinese history.
Nikk: The US isn’t Europe.
Bret: True, we didn’t last even a fraction as long as Rome.
Nikk: No, we didn’t, and it would be interesting to see what future historians will say about the United States.
Bret: I think historians will talk about the US like they talk about the Habsburg Empire... which is to say only historians will be talking about us. So you believe in American exceptionalism? Or am I mistaken in my interpretation.
Nikk: To an extent, I do. I think something different was created on this American continent, and those ideals are still there below the surface. What other nation gives at least the lip service that we do to freedom of speech, even offensive speech, as one example. There isn’t the commitment to such things as basic principles anywhere else.
Bret: Well, Japan is pretty free. Holland is pretty free.
Nikk: Okay. I like Japan. Hate speech, openly racist speech, use of certain symbols, denying the Holocaust, in Europe those are an issue. I can’t speak to Holland in particular.
Bret: You know what I find interesting about Japan? While our biggest production industry is weapons, we prevented Japan through government order to not produce weapons and not even keep a standing army, and look at their industry.
Nikk: Big standing armies are bad for economies and bad for liberties.
Bret: Well that’s just it, they aren’t bad for economies (at least in some respects), which is one reason why people support it.For example, if you shuttered the doors of businesses that produced the weapons of war, you’d have hundreds of thousands of people unemployed. You or I would say “They should get another job,” but those jobs don’t exist yet.
Nikk: Oh, I disagree. In the long run they are bad. They cost too much without producing real growth except through government spending, but that party doesn’t last forever.
Bret: I agree, because we’re just dropping our future in the form of explosives over innocent people. How to put this... I’ll approach this another way, do you agree that government can have an effect on an economy?
Nikk: Positive or negative? Both. But anything it does is harmful over the longer term. In the short term, it can create what looks like prosperous times (especially if it has some free markets as the foundation of wealth generation).
Bret: I don’t get it... how can everything it does (or doesn’t do) end up being harmful?
Nikk: Well, it’s best when it’s not doing much of anything. When it does, it creates more problems, though they may not come for generations. I’d throw Social Security in there, as there is no way to meet those obligations, certainly not now with the baby boomers beginning to retire. You can inflate and destroy your currency, or go into more debt and tax young workers at higher rates, but none of those solutions will really fix it without doing even more harm to the economy.
Bret: And yet countries like Japan have effective social security and socialized medicine (not to mention very high life expectancy), despite a stagnant fertility rate. Plenty of countries have very effectively governed themselves into success, which is undeniable on many counts. Norway, Sweden, Finland, and pretty soon we might even see nations that were once thought to be too large to succeed coming into the same success using similar methods, like in China. I don’t understand how you can actually ignore the numerous examples we have of effective governance. Look at the education systems in these nations: run by the state, more successful than in the US, and their teachers are even unionized.
Nikk: Well, the money has to come from somewhere. The US government has tens of trillions of dollars in currently unfunded liabilities with both Social Security and Medicare. Social Security is in the red right now, with less coming in than is going out in retirement checks.
Bret: But the logic of anarchists, libertarians, conservatives, and other “small government” advocates is that those countries should be falling apart like the Soviet Union. Those other countries have higher taxes rates, that’s how they pay for their success. We have pitifully low taxes, especially on our mega-wealthy. I mean. come on, we have people pulling in billion dollar bonuses who add basically no utility or productive capacity to the system. I could be a CEO of any company in this country, and I’m not even that bright.
Nikk: Who says they’re not going to? Other European countries are already seeing the strain and experiencing unrest.
Bret: Other European countries... that foolishly invested in America. You want to talk about a collapsing system, that would be unregulated capitalism.
Nikk: Well, I don’t think higher taxes can solve the enormous obligations that exist under those entitlements. They’re too big. What will happen is that average workers (not the rich) will see more and more taken from their paychecks, as was the “solution” under both President Carter and President Reagan to “save” social security. It worked for a while, but now we face it again. Young workers will start to resent it and resist it.
Bret: I don’t think you’re ever going to see anyone get rid of something they paid into, and if you are seriously expecting the young to get politically active about an issue, you picked the wrong one (though I think picking any would be foolhardy, given the apathy of American youths). You could actually not tax 90% of the population and still pay for social security, to be quite frank. Some very high percentage of the population doesn’t even pay taxes, because they either don’t earn enough or they earn nothing. I don’t know it off-hand, but it’s approaching 40% I believe. Taxes are not why Americans are pressed for cash, they’re pressed for cash because the pool of money that the rich are looting for their undeserved fortunes is the same as the pool that workers are paid from. No one goes bankrupt due to taxes. Hell, half of all bankruptcies in this country are due to medical bills.
Nikk: If they work, they pay the tax to fund Social Security, though they may not end up owing any income tax.
Bret: That’s true, but no one is losing their house because of SS tax. And if they’re that poor, they’re the type of person who can’t afford to pay for their retirement and need SS the most anyway. If you want to save on SS, there are ways to do it, like means testing for benefits.
Nikk: I myself have difficulty paying my rent because of taxes. I’m going to owe again this year, with my income tax at several thousand dollars, and I earn less than $30,000 a year. That money would make an enormous difference to me. I don’t even know at this moment where I’ll come up with the part I’ll have to pay on April 15.
Bret: I think it’s criminal that you work and can’t even get by, but the criminal isn’t the one who’s taking some tiny percent of your paycheck to pay for poor people to eat and heat their homes or for children to get an education and a warm breakfast. The criminal entity is the company who is not paying you a decent wage for your work. The criminal is the jackass who drives a car worth more than your house. And a house worth more than your life is valued by an insurance company.
Nikk: As for means testing Social Security, it won’t ever happen. It was designed to be a univeral program that you “earned”, not welfare. Trying to change it would create a thunderous lobbying effort from senior citizens, many of them well off enough to not really need that SS check every month to survive, but they feel that it’s their’s because they paid into the system for decades.
Bret: I wouldn’t say many are well off enough. Some are, probably not even enough to make SS break even right now without additional funds from non-SS taxes. But it’s just a start. It’s strange that you think means testing is a stumbling block while ending SS entirely is plausible. Besides, in any good system, there will still be people disappointed. My goal isn’t to make everyone happy, it’s to make sure everyone can pursue happiness. Right now, there are entire classes of people and regions of the country that are doomed by our system, or lack thereof. What’s more, I think extreme taxes on the rich solves one of the major problems we both have with government, namely that our politicians are bought and paid for by the wealthy.
Nikk: But yes, I’m against the current system, too.
Bret: I think everyone is, which is why I’m so confounded as to why no one is moving to change it. I imagine it’s a function of the fact that we have no unified direction.