Sovereign Debt & White House Burning

April 28, 2012

Yesterday my law journal had our symposium on the sovereign debt crises. I live tweeted the event using my iPad using hashtag #cjil. I had never live tweeted an event before but it was actually a great way to be more aware of what was being said and to have a series of short notes about it after the fact. The one difficult part is realizing that the information is being synthesized for an audience that isn’t there, so one has to be aware of how much context to provide.

I think the most surprising thing I learned was how France and Germany view China as economically superior to the United States. The panelists pointed out that this was statistically not yet true but that in spite of this the Chinese are held in higher esteem. It made me wonder whether this was a result of the wars under the Bush years or maybe the French and Germans really enjoy their iPads as well and see they are made in China. I also wonder how much of it is also based on the fact that Europe is more accepting of state economic control whereas Americans view that kind of regulation with suspicion.

I think the highlight of the symposium was Simon Johnson’s keynote address. Johnson eloquently laid out the problem facing our country, and noted that the majority of Americans do not understand our national budget. He pointed out that many people on Social Security or Medicare do not believe they participate in a government social program and they think that a large percentage of the American budget goes to foreign aid. Johnson suggests that a single-payer healthcare system is an inevitability if America is to compete with the rest of the world because the current cost of healthcare keeps rising and functions as a private tax that is destroying American business. Also of note was the fact that Johnson endorsed ending the Bush tax cuts completely. He had no problem calling out Newt Gingrich and Alan Greenspan as a cause of the problem. These fiscal conservatives had no problem engaging in deficit spending to fund tax cuts and it is unsustainable.

Ultimately Johnson seems to be a pragmatist. He cemented himself into that increasingly lonely place on the American political spectrum that we call the center. The national debt is a mounting problem but it is not insurmountable, yet. A little bit of what Governor Malloy would call shared sacrifice could go a long way to creating a sustainable budget for the future. Otherwise we too may end up like Greece. After the last debate on the debt ceiling I thought I was a bit tired of the debate on national debt. Simon Johnson brought fresh perspective to the issue and also provided some rays of hope on a hopeless issue. The question is whether there will be politicians bold enough to tackle this problem, because if they are not then it is my generation that will be dealing with the consequences.

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