A Conversation About the Debt Ceiling

Below is a Facebook conversation I recently had with a brilliant politically-minded friend, who has asked not to be named because he is involved with the Lower House of a certain state’s legislature. Comments welcome. Read on:

TMB: Why are you up so early?

A: Haha I’m always up at 5:30, man. Usually in the gym, but my biceps tendon is being a little b*tch this morning.

A: So I did some debt ceiling research instead.

TMB: What’d you find out?

TMB: By the way, talked to a guy who founded a massive telecom company and was huge at AT&T before that. He supported austerity in Europe and here. We talked about his time working for those companies and why he was so successful.

A: A few things.

A: Nice.

TMB: He said he didn’t worry about costs, just about increasing revenue by any means possible and staying ahead of competitors.

TMB: And didn’t understand the irony.

A: Haha…sounds like an interesting conversation.

TMB: What’d you find out today?

A: I found out that the big problem is more the uncertainty regarding the technical processes that govern the treasury’s activity during a default than an actual default in the textbook sense.

A: Which really makes things worse, because even if we avoid a default, we still risk causing serious economic harm to ourselves and other countries, which ultimately threatens the cornerstone of American power, which is our position at the foundation of the global economic system.

A: Instead of celebrating avoiding some sort of theoretically catastrophic event, we should be lamenting the further erosion of that position.

TMB: OF COURSE we should. This year has been an unmitigated disaster. I will suggest one thing, though. Our position at the foundation of the global economic system is pretty unshakable for the same reason that a default would be catastrophic: the entire system, from the most basic assumptions to the most complicated mechanisms, relies on the one central assumption that there is a riskless asset against which all others (including the relatively risky (!) gold) can be measured. That, of course, is US debt. Just as it would wreck the world if that were undone and we had to rebuild the whole system from scratch, any attempt to factor true risk of US debt into global financial theory will also have to rebuild the whole system from scratch. That is the second of the great trilogy of ironies here.

TMB: So 1) US debt is the most powerful bomb in the world if you somehow can light that fuse, 2) if you don’t blow it up, it’s the most stable substance in the world, and 3) the people willing to blow it up are willing to do so, at least in part, because they don’t understand either of the first two. The first point means default destroys the world. The second really means we could go on a ten-year spending spree of Caligulan proportions and we could catapult ourselves back to the forefront of education, science, space, everything, as well as reestablishing our ability to produce at a level that might allow us to reduce the debt, without risking default on pure trust terms, because the system isn’t rigged to judge our debt in pure trust terms — only if we blow it up in one go.

TMB: That’s a pretty liberal suggestion, I think, but I actually believe it. I agree with you. What we are doing now is devastating, because we could triple the g*ddamn debt without making it less attractive. We just can’t do this.

A: Man, I’ve been thinking/arguing part of that for years now. The dollar figure attached to our national debt is almost totally irrelevant, yet conservatives seem to think it’s the only thing that matters. They all think the United States government can and should operate on the same financial principles that apply to most successful households.

A: It’s not the f*cking same.

A: Increasing the effectiveness of our investments is the key to ultimate economic prosperity.

A: Does that mean we can’t cut anything? No. It means we have to move resources from less effective areas into more effective areas, adding additional resources as necessary to increase returns in the most productive ones.

TMB: I’m with you. I think I’m gonna hit the next person who makes the household analogy.

As a follow-up to this conversation, I shared a post on Facebook asking for suggestions as to why the dollar figure of the US debt matters. I got zero responses, but maybe my friends who can answer that question just didn’t see it. What do you think?

Learning Thai Day 0: Introduction

สวัส ดี – Hello/goodbye
จัด ไป – Let’s go, let’s do it!
     จัด – Prepare, get ready
     ไป – Go
 
In this series, I’ll document the process through which I learn the Thai language, and the ways in which my acquisition of Thai reflects my daily experiences.
 
At least for the beginning of this series, I’ll do without a formal textbook or any other structured means of learning the language. I’ll only include the words that naturally find me as I negotiate a world (Hankha, Chainat, Thailand) in which Thai is largely the only means of communication. Because of that, this series will be half language course and half diary.
 
Each day, I’ll post three things:
   – New words of the day
   – My own best Thai of the day
   – A little description of my day and how I met each of the words on the list
 
I have decided to forgo transliteration and transcription entirely, for three reasons:
1) Thai is erratically transliterated. There are several systems in use here, and none is followed particularly attentively. It is common to see the names of streets, buildings, and even cities written differently on government signs placed within spitting distance of each other.
2) The transliteration systems generally do not include all the information needed to correctly pronounce Thai. Tones, vowel length, and nasalization are often left unrepresented.
3) Time spent learning a transliteration system is time not spent learning the Thai alphabet, which is difficult but not impossible.
 
I will, however, add spaces and punctuation to Thai script for ease of reading. Thai traditionally uses neither, which can make it confusing to read even for Thai people. I’ll spare you the exhausting task of figuring out where one word ends and the next begins, but remember that the Thai you encounter in the wild won’t be so kind.
 
So, if they’re written in a script you’re unfamiliar with, how will you master the pronunciation of the Thai words I present? Well, to go along with each post, I’ll add a video on YouTube to demonstrate how I pronounce the words and sentences mentioned in the post. Here’s today’s, with only two Thai words:
 
[[YouTube issues – Video up soon]]
 
(Also, modern phones and computers can pronounce Thai for you. Highlight this – สวัสดี,”Hello” – on an iPhone and click speak, or paste it into Google Translate and press the speaker button.)
 
สวัส ดี is the formal Thai phrase for greeting and parting, and will be covered tomorrow. จัด ไป is a slangy way to enthusiastically agree to do something. It’ll almost always raise a smile when used by a foreigner. My first Thai friends taught it to me and laugh riotously whenever I say it.
 
Feel free to follow along for just the language, or for just the stories, or for whatever other reason (eg, for the handsome host). And ask questions in the comments, if you’d like.
 
Alright, จัด ไป! Let’s do it!