The Debt Crisis–What a Statesman Would Do


I don’t claim to be an expert on the current debt ceiling debate raging in the beltway and now being felt around the world. It is not unlike a hurricane that is brewing off shore with the possibility that a last minute change may spell disaster or relief, depending on several factors, including the unpredictability of chaos. What I do know is that the debt storm brewing, unlike a real hurricane, was man made. It therefore can be unmade. If it had a beginning, it will have an end. One can argue all day about who created it, when it was created, how to change it, or it’s final impact. All those questions, although interesting, won’t change the fact that the winds are starting to pick up outside and those winds are just the precursor of what might be a great storm that devastates many.

The discussions of some in Congress with the weight of rhetoric and ideology are not methods or tools of change, they are the gravitational centers of a polemic mass. They are not helpful as tools of compromise, but are the flags of politicians looking for the votes of the populous or the chance to make a foe look bad regardless of consequence. Populism is great if it is educated. An educated populous should, however, embrace change and the notion that stress and crisis are necessary for growth. You can paint yourself into a corner very quickly with the brush of ideology. When you are drawing lines, you ought look at what’s behind you.

Good decisions are not made for the masses when extreme polarity is at play. This is especially true when the environment is ever changing. When trying to solve an issue, you need to have as many options available as possible so you are not limited lest you cause the brewing storm to cause more damage.

When 9/11 occurred it was unexpected. There were perhaps signs, but the manner and way it occurred was unexpected. It caused overwhelming pain and destruction. Families and individuals were ripped apart in ways that will never completely heal. It also initially caused financial upheaval. The turmoil was unplanned, unnecessary and unwanted by rational human beings. One of the goals of the terrorists who planned and carried out the plot was to hurt us at our financial center or core. They failed. The economy was strong enough to take the impact and a taller building is rising. Though that storm was unplanned, we survived and rebuilt.

Now, ten years later, a financial storm of perhaps greater proportion may soon befall us if elected men and women do not step forward as statesmen, put aside politics and forego the stale and corrupt immovability of polemic ideology. Is it not ironic that this storm is our own creation? No one else caused this but ourselves. We will be responsible for the damage. Did we not elect the officials that are making the decisions? We apparently like the reality we created. We elect and we watch. It’s like Rome in a coliseum. The problem is, however, we will be the ones that get hurt. We are both the gladiator and the slave.

The other fascinating point is that we have been here before. Debt as a percentage of GDP has been higher in the United States. World War II saw higher debt when compared with GDP. However, the stakes now feel higher. For over a 140 years the United States has been the world’s biggest economy and has made the rules for the rest of the world when it comes to commerce. The rest of the world knows this. China knows this. Maybe we are tired of being number one. Being number one has advantages but so does being number two. Perhaps it is less stressful. Perhaps we want to draft off others in the future as they have done. That debate will inevitably arise more focused as China’s economy gains momentum and influence, and possibly overtakes the US in about 20 years. For now, we have a storm to attend to in D.C.

What is needed are people brave enough to see the future as one of possibility and growth. The keys or tools to solve the problem are also the keys of opportunity. These tools to work solutions are relatively simple but it will take calm and self disciplined people to either change course or prepare for the impact. I hope they start soon if they have not already. It may even storm for a while so remaining calm is even more necessary.

Here are some ideas: Place the leaders of the various factions into small groups. Put opposites in the same room. Bring in facilitators, mediators or peacemakers if necessary. Allow these many smaller groups to handle just one of the issues each. Allow them to hear each others positions informally and to actively listen i.e. “What I hear you saying is you don’t want to have to pay for something unless you can afford it.” “What you want is for people to have a job at a company that is not over taxed so it can hire.” etc. These small groups will hopefully build new personal relationships. Let them come up with creative solutions. People are real when they are one on one. They are not when they are 60 vs 225 vs 210 vs 100.

Next idea: Sometimes you have to sacrifice to finish a deal. Sometimes you have to make concessions to make a deal work. It is not perfect, but at least it allows for there to be momentum. If one side gives a little then perhaps the other side will as well. What’s the alternative? Civil discord or perhaps worse. Politics is by it’s nature a short term project. It yields little long term gain. It is thunder without the rain. Statesmanship, on the other hand, is long term and forward thinking. It knows, for the good of others, tough decisions are made for the future. It does not seek to gain another majority in a few months or to create more argument to justify itself. A fool speaks without meaning. A statesman speaks with authenticity and heart. In the next election perhaps we ought to elect statesmen, not fools. One of our best thinkers, Benjamin Franklin, offered this advise to his fellow statesmen on compromise: Be willing to sacrifice, not your principals, but your overwhelming urge to be right. It’s a republic if we can keep it.

Trust, open options, future looking, and the ability to concede when necessary to continue are the keys to the dilemma we face. The deal will not be done by having separate press conferences or by signing a pledge. It’s “We the People.” Just because you can tie yourself up, should you? What if you need those hands because an unexpected fire starts and you need to pour water on it? The deal will be done by true gentlemen and gentlewomen of intellect and heart placed in small groups across small tables. They will needs their hands in order to shake the hands of each other when the deal is finally done.

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