Monday, August 20, 2012
Of chicken sandwiches and societal decay -- part 2
Continued from last week…
At the current time about one third of all Americans are receiving a government check. Don’t get upset. A lot of, maybe most of these checks are absolutely legitimate. Pensions, social security, disability paychecks for government jobs that are necessary for the functioning of the society. These are part of the social contract. They were earned and the people who receive them are usually decent folks who have worked hard. I am not saying that government checks are a bad thing. I hope to receive one myself someday. Still, 70 percent of the federal government's budget is dedicated to paying those checks, but the Federal Government has to borrow 43 cents of every dollar it spends, and the level of government debt is so large and growing so quickly that we cannot even begin to comprehend the scope of the problem. The only way to pay the debt and keep the checks coming is to tax those who can be taxed. About half of Americans pay taxes. About half do not. If we keep increasing the taxes of the half the people of the country to support the other half, the paying half is going to say “Why bother?”
This is just the situation of the federal government. The state and city governments are often in much, much worse shape. Ten States, California, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin are about to go bankrupt. These 10 states account for about a third of the population, so 33% of the USA is on the verge of bankruptcy. Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, New York and Hawaii are approaching the same condition. Cities die. Detroit, a city my family once called home had a population of 1,900,000 people in 1950. In 2010 it had 700,000. There are wide open spaces where there once were homes and businesses. Except for a few artificially sustained areas the city is a devastation. There are quite a few factors that made this situation, but needless to say, Detroit is a city on life support. I am unable to find out how many people in Detroit are dependent on the government for their income, but I would venture that it is significant and that it is those able to pay taxes who have left. The question is, how will they or dwellers in any city live if there is no government?
My Uncle Sylvester (I’m not making him up) lived in Detroit when the depression broke out. He and Aunt Stell’ moved back to her family farm and provided for the relatives back in the city until things got better. What farm will you go to if and when the government says, “sorry no check this month, we’re broke.”? “But I worked for this check. This is my pension. This is my social security. This is my workman’s comp. I worked for this. This isn’t fair.” You’re right. It’s not fair. But in the annoying popular phrase, it is what it is. We spent the money we owed you, and now we are out of money. No matter how just your complaint, when the money is gone, the money is gone. We are living on the razor’s edge in this fragile society. People in Rome slowly packed up and moved away. They moved away because to stay was to die. There was no more water. The technology had failed because there was no money to maintain it. No one cleaned or maintained the aqueduct. We have aqueducts too, but more significantly we have power lines. Imagine what would happen to a city of 8,000,000 people if it had no power for a week or two. No water, no traffic lights, no telephones, no refrigeration, no elevators, no lights, no fire sirens, no 911 calls, no hospitals, no cell phones, no computers, no banks, no ATM’s, no computers, no gas stations, no nothing. And no money.
I look at my bank statement and think “Oh good! I still have some money.” There is no real money anymore. We don’t even have much paper money. All my money and yours is just a bunch of bits and bytes floating in cyberspace, electrical impulses stored on a digital memory system. Pull the plug, blow the fuse and it’s gone. So you’ve bought gold, have you? What are you going to do with it? You can’t eat gold and unless someone will take your gold and give you chickens you are up the proverbial creek. Probably the person who has the chickens will just take the gold, especially if the chicken farmer has a shotgun. It has been said that in a societal failure, lead will be much more valuable than gold. We, like the Romans and every other civilization before us think that the city of man is a bedrock when it is in fact a swamp. I can hear some of you packing your things and looking for rural real estate. That is not my point. My point is that you must first question the values of the “Age of Wackiness.”
The Christian believes that people are more important than things. The current age believes that things are more important than people, in fact, people are measured by the number of things they possess. Our problem is that all the things we possess need to be plugged in. The clueless generation has almost no interest in anything that doesn’t require electricity and I imagine if the government really runs out of money all those wonderful electric toys will make mediocre paper weights and nothing more. We need to teach the Clueless generation that they can’t always have their own way and that the love of God is the only thing that can’t be stolen from them. You’re saying it can’t happen. I’m saying it will happen. I don’t know how and when, but if we continue at the present rate of consuming without producing it will happen. I suspect that it will happen sooner than any of us would care to think. I don’t imagine things will end. I just think someone will come along who will help us out of our mess if we do as we are told. Then it will be someone else who decides what kind of chicken sandwich we will eat. So what’s the answer? I think that was your question. Simple: “Put not your trust in princes, nor in mortal man, in whom there is no help....How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the LORD his God.”
Oh, by the way, the great city of Rome was in about the same shape as we are. Half the city of Rome worked. They were slaves. The other lived off of slave labor and government grain distributions. When the government failed, the Church took over the welfare system. The American state is currently trying to cripple the charities of the Catholic Church to extend its control over society. When the government can’t pay anyone anymore I imagine we Catholics will have to step in all over again. It would probably be smart not to destroy the churches charitable and educational institutions. You’re gonna need ‘em. “Quomodo sedet sola civitas” (How doth the city sit alone. Lamentations 1:1)
P.S. As I finish this diatribe, the electricity in India has failed and about 600 million people are in the dark. Creepy, isn’t it!
P.P.S. I am very fond of Bratwurst. Also the book “A Canticle for Liebowitz” is fun reading on the topic.