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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Extremity in the Pursuit of Moderation Is No Virtue

I give up.

For as long as I can remember--which admittedly is not very long, thanks to repeated blows to the head suffered during my last whaling expedition--at least WOS told me they were suffered during a whaling expedition--frankly, it sounds a little fishy to me. . . . Get it?  "Fishy"?  "Whaling expedition"?  Huh?  Huh?

Where was I?

Oh, yes.

For as long as I can remember, one could scarcely turn on the news or read a newspaper without finding some dire warnings about the impending societal breakdown caused by our soaring national budget deficit.  Indeed, the deficit was of such concern that it caused lawmakers of both parties to embrace draconian fiscal solutions.  Social spending slashed!  Taxes raised on the wealthy!  (Well, "as if," but still.)  Freezes in government salaries!  Layoffs in government offices!  Reduced allocations for selective enforcement of IRS laws!  (Which the more I hear about the more I start to wonder if there really is any major scandal going on there, but that's another story.)  The Republic must be saved from its own profligacy, and if some temporary pain is the price we must pay to stabilize the national budget, so be it!  So you would think today's news that the budget deficit is actually shrinking faster than expected, and that the annual deficit would actually be about $200 billion less than projections had indicated would be unambiguously good news.

Except it's not!

Economists have mixed feelings about deficit reduction based on their ideological leanings.  For some, the fact that the deficit is shrinking is less important than the fact that unemployment remains high, there being some correlation between a shrinking deficit and continued job shortages--presumably because government could do more to increase employment if it were willing to spend money, which would increase the deficit, but for ostensibly "good" reasons.  Got it?  Other economists say that any current shrinkage is but a temporary reprieve from overwhelming forces that will come crashing down upon us in some not-too-distant future, plunging us into a Mad-Maxian dystopia of widespread anarchy and rampant Thunderdome construction. 

Now, what I don't know about economics could fill a book--an economics textbook most likely.  But if deficits are bad, and reducing deficits is also bad, could somebody please tell me at what point I get to stop panicking?

And as if this economic quandary weren't bad enough, we can't even count on biological certainties anymore.  You know how you're not supposed to eat too much salt?  Well, now it turns out that a low-salt diet has no particular benefits and may even increase the risk of heart attacks!  Yes, presumably one still should not ingest excessive amounts of salt--

--and I love this commercial for a drug--I think it's Cialis--that features the disclaimer that people shouldn't "drink alcohol to excess" while taking the drug.  Are there drugs whose makers recommend excessive drinking?--

--but having too little salt in one's diet may be just as bad.

Must we constantly struggle, Goldilocks-like, to find the just-right balance in everything?  Can we not agree on the relative horribleness of anything?  Hitler, maybe.  At least he's good for something.

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