Equality and Inequality

I had not intended to make my first entry of substance here to be on this topic, but I can not let the opportunity pass.

Two Events
Two big events involving equality happened this week in Washington DC, in Congress and with the assent of the President. One is a very good outcome that was long in the effort to achieve, the other a very bad outcome that was even longer in the effort to overcome. Each involves a large class of citizens and a small class of citizens. Each has a short term consequence and a long term consequence. Each involves fairness. And each reaches to the very foundations of our nation.

The repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law for gays in the military is the final nail in the coffin of official prejudice, ignorance, fear, and discrimination concerning gays who serve. Our military is finally catching up with the rest of society. In time, we will reflect back to today and wonder why its repeal took so long. (Note, however, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was considered progress with respect to the way things were before it became the law in 1993.) Now that this hurdle has been conquered, gays are well along the way to achieving the same status as everyone else (there are other hurdles yet, but this one was big).

It is unimportant whether a person being gay is a nurtured choice or is nature’s choice. What is important is that the gay person’s assigned job is done well, timely, fairly, efficiently, safely, and with little or no negative consequences, as measured the same way as for non-gay individuals. Also, it is important that the gay person’s personal and professional interactions with everyone (gay and non-gay) involves respect and dignity, measured the same way as for non-gays.

Equality is what is important. The same rules for everybody, all things else essentially the same. (Every reputable study has shown that gays and non-gays are essentially the same.) Equality and fairness, in opportunity and in our mutual interactions, are among the most fundamental tenants of our society. The removal of this official discrimination is a huge step in reaching for that ideal.

There may be some discomfort at first as we collectively make adjustments, but we’ll all be a bit more comfortable down the road as a result. The repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is just the Golden Rule in practice: Treat others as you would have them treat you in exactly similar situations. How we treat others illustrates what we think of ourselves. We now have a bit less self-loathing. There is reason for hope and optimism.

The other event involves equality of a different sort. Rather, the lack of equality. That is, the deliberate imbalance of the federal government’s revenue and spending by way of Congress and the President, this week past, extending the ten year old tax cuts that created the bulk of the accumulated budget deficits of the past decade. This while increasing spending. Passage of this “compromise” bill continues to feed our addiction to not paying our way by delaying even longer the growing consequential pain of dealing with that debt.

The United States government does not have a spending problem. We are the richest, deepest, most broad-based, and hence the most robust economy in the world. We can afford to do almost anything we desire, and we have the funds in the current economy to pay for it: We are one of the lowest taxed industrialized countries of the world. There is plenty of wealth to go around, if only we would decide to use a slightly larger portion of it to pay our way.

That is the problem. We, the people, have the spending problem, not the government. We demand what we want, but we refuse to pay for it. For most of the past thirty years, we have addicted ourselves to overwhelming debt spending, living only for today (and the quarterly profits), forcing others (our children and grandchildren) to deal with the amassing mess later. Every year we lean further over the edge of the cliff, as our fat pot bellies continue to grow, and the suspenders by which China and others hang on to us to keep us from tumbling into the cliff become thinner and more frayed.

Because we, the people, have a spending problem, the government has a revenue problem: Not enough cash to pay the bills. If we don’t change our ways, eventually, the interest on our accumulated debt will be the single biggest unpaid bill, eventually dominating the federal budget. That is, someday, even if we eliminated ALL spending (defense, infrastructure, education, research and development, entitlements, and so on), we would still have an annual tax bill the same or higher than it is today, just to pay the interest on our debt.

Our deliberate inequality between spending and taxing has created the economic mess we are experiencing. Our greed and infantile refusal to consider the consequences are our own fault. Not the politicians’ fault, not the neighbors’ fault, not the fault of the “other” party.

We are all addicts, collectively. It is a rare addict that finds his own way to cure his addiction, and does so on his own. But we have no choice. The continuation of this condition is untenable. Either we die of the addiction (total economic collapse and the destruction of the country), which is one cure, or we wean ourselves by going through the somewhat painful withdrawal step by step, monitoring our vital signs and taking little actions here and there to prevent aneurysms and cardiac arrests while we detoxify. The former cure is an unthinkably painful future. The latter is a considerably less painful and more positive alternative.

As hard as the withdrawal will be, it is for naught if we don’t prevent the addiction from happening again. Prevention plans is a topic for a future column here.

A Fat Farmer
If this past week were a baseball game, then Congress and the President did well by batting .500. Alas, this is not a game. This is for real. A better analogy is the greedy hungry fat farmer eating the seed corn that was reserved for next Spring’s planting, but sharing it with other members of his family. His sharing feels good, but he should also have a feeling of impending doom. He and his family should be fasting while working second jobs.

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