Commentary Magazine


Topic: Charles Dickens

RE: The More Things Change …

Charles Dickens, of all people, gives us an indication of just how low the financial reputation of this country was in the post-Jackson era. In A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, Dickens wrote about Ebenezer Scrooge waking up after his encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Past and being relieved to find that the world had not ended. Thus, Scrooge realized, a note that was payable to him in three days was not as worthless as “a mere United States’ security.”

Ouch, indeed.

America’s economic high-amplitude boom-and-bust cycle in the 19th century was not without its advantages, however. As booms gathered force, British capital would pour into the country to help build canals, railroads, and factories. After the inevitable crash (we had crashes in 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, and 1893), the British owners of the by then much-depreciated stock and bonds would throw them on the American market to get whatever they could for them. Thus the United States ended up not only with the railroads and canals — but ownership of them as well.

Charles Dickens, of all people, gives us an indication of just how low the financial reputation of this country was in the post-Jackson era. In A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, Dickens wrote about Ebenezer Scrooge waking up after his encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Past and being relieved to find that the world had not ended. Thus, Scrooge realized, a note that was payable to him in three days was not as worthless as “a mere United States’ security.”

Ouch, indeed.

America’s economic high-amplitude boom-and-bust cycle in the 19th century was not without its advantages, however. As booms gathered force, British capital would pour into the country to help build canals, railroads, and factories. After the inevitable crash (we had crashes in 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, and 1893), the British owners of the by then much-depreciated stock and bonds would throw them on the American market to get whatever they could for them. Thus the United States ended up not only with the railroads and canals — but ownership of them as well.

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Wilkins Micawber for Treasury Secretary?

If you would like a graphic example of the fiscal disconnect  characterizing the liberal establishment currently running the country, the front page of today’s New York Times provides it.

The lead story has a two-column head, “Federal Government Faces Balloon in Debt Payments.” The subhead alludes to the very real possibility that interest on the debt in ten years might exceed $700 billion, up from $202 billion this year. The article, well worth reading, makes no bones about the size of the problem we face.

The potential for rapidly escalating interest payouts is just one of the wrenching challenges facing the United States after decades of living beyond its means.

Right beneath the article, however, is a “reefer,” pointing readers to an article elsewhere in the paper, headlined, “Democrats Courting Health Care Votes.” Votes are courted on Capitol Hill by increased spending. Senator Mary Landrieu voted to take up the health-care bill for debate only after Harry Reid inserted an extra $100 million in Medicaid payments for her state, an action promptly dubbed “the Louisiana Purchase.”

Although carefully crafted accounting mendacity allows Obamacare to be characterized “budget neutral,” I doubt there’s a single person on Capitol Hill — or in the Times newsroom — who actually believes that the label fits. It would, after all, be the first new federal entitlement in history not to cost more than predicted (except for the drug benefit enacted a few years ago, which utilizes the power of the free market to bring down prices — not exactly a characteristic of Obamacare).

This is like a couple worrying about their ever-rising credit-card and mortgage payments while heading downtown to a showroom to buy a new car — on credit.

Perhaps if Timothy Geithner leaves as Treasury Secretary, Obama can persuade Wilkins Micawber to come on board. He was never daunted by such contradictions, at least judging by the words that Charles Dickens put in his mouth: “Welcome poverty! . . . Welcome misery, welcome houselessness, welcome hunger, rags, tempest, and beggary! Mutual confidence will sustain us to the end!”

If you would like a graphic example of the fiscal disconnect  characterizing the liberal establishment currently running the country, the front page of today’s New York Times provides it.

The lead story has a two-column head, “Federal Government Faces Balloon in Debt Payments.” The subhead alludes to the very real possibility that interest on the debt in ten years might exceed $700 billion, up from $202 billion this year. The article, well worth reading, makes no bones about the size of the problem we face.

The potential for rapidly escalating interest payouts is just one of the wrenching challenges facing the United States after decades of living beyond its means.

Right beneath the article, however, is a “reefer,” pointing readers to an article elsewhere in the paper, headlined, “Democrats Courting Health Care Votes.” Votes are courted on Capitol Hill by increased spending. Senator Mary Landrieu voted to take up the health-care bill for debate only after Harry Reid inserted an extra $100 million in Medicaid payments for her state, an action promptly dubbed “the Louisiana Purchase.”

Although carefully crafted accounting mendacity allows Obamacare to be characterized “budget neutral,” I doubt there’s a single person on Capitol Hill — or in the Times newsroom — who actually believes that the label fits. It would, after all, be the first new federal entitlement in history not to cost more than predicted (except for the drug benefit enacted a few years ago, which utilizes the power of the free market to bring down prices — not exactly a characteristic of Obamacare).

This is like a couple worrying about their ever-rising credit-card and mortgage payments while heading downtown to a showroom to buy a new car — on credit.

Perhaps if Timothy Geithner leaves as Treasury Secretary, Obama can persuade Wilkins Micawber to come on board. He was never daunted by such contradictions, at least judging by the words that Charles Dickens put in his mouth: “Welcome poverty! . . . Welcome misery, welcome houselessness, welcome hunger, rags, tempest, and beggary! Mutual confidence will sustain us to the end!”

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