Wrigley Field, Chicago, 2040 AD
Walking around the ruins of the old Roman town of St Albans can make you feel like Shelley’s “traveller from an antique land”. As you look down into the remains of the Roman amphitheatre, where the town’s inhabitants flocked in the second and third centuries AD, you wonder what those people thought and talked about as Roman Britain approached its collapse.
You’d like to think they talked about that looming collapse. Perhaps they did. It was, after all, the existential issue of the day. But looking at behaviour in another, contemporary, troubled great power, you do wonder.
The United States government hasn’t balanced its budget since 2001. In the past ten years, starting in 2002 when Republicans controlled the Congress and the White House, Federal government debt has more than doubled from $6.5 trillion to over $15 trillion, or nearly $51,000 for every US citizen. Since September 2007 that debt has been increasing by nearly $3.9 billion a day. The Congressional Budget Office reported last week that in 2012 the Federal government’s debt increased by over a trillion dollars for the fourth year running.
Over the same ten year period the dollar has lost about 25 percent of its value. The rampant credit creation of the Federal Reserve which fuelled the housing bubble has created $1.4 trillion of new base money since 2000. At the moment most of this is sitting on banks’ balance sheets but if it emerges into the wider economy the US will have an inflation crisis.
Likewise, if the foreigners who hold nearly a third of America’s debt decide to dump these depreciating assets, the dollar will collapse.
These are the existential issues for the United States as November’s presidential election nears. But to look at the media you’d never know it.
Instead the American media has lately been preoccupied with a fast food chicken chain. More precisely, it has been preoccupied with what the president of that chain thinks of gay marriage.
“Who cares?” might have been the appropriate response. If you’re a Chick-fil-A shareholder and you don’t agree with him, sell up and invest somewhere else. If you’re a customer, go and buy your artery clogging food down the street. Capitalism, more so than any other system, gives you scope to exercise your morality.
Instead the views of one guy became a minutely discussed national news event. Democrats in a number of cities called for local branches of Chick-fil-A to be shut down, a curious course of action in the face of high unemployment. Supporters of Dan Cathy’s views had a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day where they filled their faces to show solidarity. They should have called it Cholesterol for Christ.
Then, last week, media attention fixed upon the previously little known Republican Representative from Missouri, Todd Akin. In an interview with a local TV station Akin aired the unusual view that women couldn’t become pregnant through “legitimate rape”.
Worryingly Akin sits on the House Science Committee. This provides yet another argument for leaving more to free markets and less to government. Under free markets science ends up in the hands of people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Only government could put someone like Akin in charge of science.
Neither gay marriage nor rape should be belittled as issues. Laurie Penny, not someone I’m given to quoting approvingly, noted in a moving blogpost that between ten and twenty percent of women in America have experienced rape, 90,000 in 2008 alone. This is awful and ought to be tackled.
But neither should silly remarks from a silly man like Todd Akin drown out the great existential issue in American politics: the economy.
And America’s solvency ought to matter to everybody. It ought to matter to Democrats who care about redistribution of wealth: watch your economy disappear over a cliff and then try and redistribute nothing; see how far that gets you.
It ought to matter to neo-conservatives: America’s economic wellbeing is a sine qua non of American strength. The United States did not become rich because it had powerful armed forces; it got powerful armed forces because it was rich. If the wealth goes so does the power.
And, most importantly, it ought to matter to every ordinary American citizen who will suffer if the economy continues on its current, Hellenic path.
But instead of this discussion we have the ongoing row about Mitt Romney’s taxes. With unemployment stuck above 8 percent and poverty at record levels, Obama’s supporters are trying to turn an election that should be about how much money Americans have in their pockets into one about how much money Mitt Romney has in his.
President Obama’s economic track record has been dismal so you can’t blame him for running away from it. Bill Clinton’s strategist James Carville famously said it was “The economy, stupid” but Obama and his supporters are desperately trying to shift the focus of this election to anything but. And the Republicans have been lead-footed enough to let them.
Ultimately, Americans have a decision to make. What matters most: Tax returns or job reports?
This article originally appeared at The Commentator