Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mud on the Ceiling

by Matthew Barlet

It's hard to avoid “news” about the debt ceiling. Take it from me. I'm a full-time student and I don't even have cable. I read little else than canonical American literature, and watch little else than television shows that I obtain through questionable means on the internet. I don't enjoy politics, much less politicians. In fact, I consider it a successful day if I avoid evening thinking about political issues. And yet, like a sap, I fell victim to the muckraking stories about the debt ceiling like countless other Americans.

I was visiting my parents, who conveniently leave popular news channels on for their long-haired Chihuahua, Rachel. According to them, Rachel enjoys CNN more than any other news network, because she cocks her head to the side at the headlines. I joined the puppy for no more than three minutes of television, and by the commercial break I was distraught with panic. Here's what I knew: thanks to Obama's uncontrolled spending habits, we had accumulated a national debt so incredibly high that it was soon to meet a legal ceiling. When the ceiling was reached, our nation would fall into chaos, and lawlessness would prevail. I chewed all of my fingernails off in the next two hours, before my attention span reached its limit, and I sank back into a useful memory.

I'd recently taken an introductory course in economics at the University of Massachusetts Boston. As an English major, I spent the majority of the semester finding reasons not to go to the class. When I actually went, I spent the class imagining that I was a superhero charged with correcting mistakes in human history. Near the very beginning of the semester, as I was liberating Jewish prisoners from Nazi Germany with my x-ray vision, I remembered hearing a particularly interesting phrase escape my professor: “Listening to politicians speak about economics is frustrating, because they don't actually know what they're talking about.” Eager to test the theory, I scheduled a meeting with him.

A week later I found myself sitting in front of one Nurul Aman, doctor of economics and master crafter of well-timed jokes. He leaned back nonchalantly in his chair, nibbling gingerly at a perfectly ripened banana as he analyzed the so-called “crisis” in less than five minutes. “Since president Reagan, which is about thirty years, [the debt ceiling] has been increased seventy-eight times,” he said. “Historically, it has increased without any issue in the news. It was shocking to the Obama administration, because they did not think this kind of issue would ever arise.” The statistic was shocking. I immediately asked why there was a sudden concern for the debt ceiling if it had risen so many times before. “It's no coincidence that the Tea Party came about as soon as Obama went into office,” he responded. “They are ignorant and racist. They want the black man out of the oval office so they can put a white man in his place to enact the same policies that Obama wants to enact now. They saw an opportunity to take advantage of ignorance in the American people and they took it.”

Much more convinced that I was right all along about avoiding politics at all cost, I started asking dirty details about the debt ceiling itself. Apparently, only two countries in the world have a debt ceiling; the U.S. and Denmark. Denmark's debt ceiling is ho high that they'll never reach it. They're a small country, and couldn't possibly borrow that much. The U.S., on the other hand, set their cap low. They have to raise it frequently to keep up with the increasing amount of debt.

“There's nothing unhealthy about national debt,” Dr. Aman said, “as long as you can pay the interest on it.” According to Aman, the U.S. won't ever have a problem keeping up with this bill, regardless of how high the ceiling reaches. “The real question is, why is borrowing money so easy for us? No one asks that question. America has the best economic stability in history. They never default. America is the safest and cheapest investment in the world. The U.S. government is a goldmine! Every day the government sells an average of four to five billion dollars in security bonds. It would take us half an hour to get back the money from a increase in the debt ceiling.”

With all of this covered, I was left with only one question: If this information is all publicly accessible, why do politicians try to convince us that there's a crisis? Dr. Aman wasted no time in answering. “[Politicians] think that it is very easy to sell [nonsense] to the American people because they think they are stupid, but they're not. People have common sense. Politicians do not study, and that is the serious problem. They do not have to go to regular college to get a degree. I say, 'Study, idiot! It's your responsibility!'”

After the interview, I checked the facts independently, confirming what the good doctor summarized. The truth wasn't as sensational as portrayed in the news. There was a scandal, but it wasn't caused by the Obama administration's budget or policy changes. In the end, it all boiled down to racism and manipulation of people just like me who have too much faith in others. Thankfully, we have no cause for being ignorant. Our access to technology is at such a level that even the most complicated matters can be researched without even leaving our homes. If there is anything to learn from this debacle, it's that you should always seek a second opinion.

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