Congress Kicks the Can

CNBC gives the news:

Congress was poised to prevent a government shutdown Thursday with hours to go before a midnight deadline.

The Senate and House both passed a short-term appropriations bill that would keep the government running through Dec. 3. The U.S. will avoid a lapse in funding once President Joe Biden signs it into law.

The Senate approved the legislation in a 65-35 vote, as 15 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats. The House passed the bill by a 254-175 margin as 34 GOP representatives and every Democrat supported it.

Barring delays, the House is expected to approve the plan and send it to President Joe Biden before funding lapses.

President Joe Biden will of course sign his name to the legislation.

We hazard many palms were greased… many backs were scratched… many arms were twisted.

Many horses were traded.

“Disaster” Avoided

And so federal workers essential to the Republic’s safety will remain on station — the customs official at Ketchikan, Alaska — for example.

The Transportation Security Administration will still defend the aerial ways against infants, their great-grandmothers, the crippled and related hellcats.

Social Security checks will still go through the mails.

In event of national invasion, the Marines will answer the bugle.

Of course, Congress would never permit an authentic government shutdown.

One fellow attempts to seize concessions from the other… to make him blink first.

The other pursues an identical strategy. But they come to terms by the fatal hour.

The political combat before us is thus reduced to spectacle, a professional wrestling bout with its false feuds, artificial blows and imitation blood.

The outcome is pre-decided.

And so today the soda can goes rolling down the roadway, kicked plenty hard.

You will be treated to the identical show in December, when the present arrangement terminates — depend on it.

The Case for Gridlock

At The Daily Reckoning, we are bitterly and ruthlessly antipartisan. That is, we denounce each party for its multiple atrocities (admittedly, some readers do not agree).

Yet if you’ll allow us this one partisan deviation:

It was our sincere wish that the Republican Party retained its Senate majority in 2020’s election.

That is, we were — and are — out for gridlock.

The Democratic Party is hot to “get things done.” Yet we do not want it to get things done.

That is because getting things done generally equates to massive raids upon our liberties, our logic centers… and our wallets.

When government gets things done for A, it must first do things to B.

And so B is knocked about by his own government for the benefit of A.

We find the entire business scandalous.

Our concept of progress grazes against the general grain. Our progress consists of dynamiting most existing government programs and policies.

Decade after decade of government doing for A and C and D and E and F have thrown the nation’s finances into ghastly disequilibrium.

Shocking but True

By some metrics, the United States presently takes on more debt in one year than it did in its first 200 years of existence.

It may astound you. It may flabbergast you. It may horrify you.

But the facts are the facts.

This was true — incidentally — even before the virus invaded its shores. Now all previous projections go into the hellbox, discarded and useless.

In 2018 — merely three years past — the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected the national debt would exceed $23 trillion by 2020. Exceed.

We suspect the 2018 forecast was intended to raise the hair, to sound a klaxon. Yet the year is presently 2021.

The nation staggers and groans under a $28.8 trillion debt… which counts higher with each swing of the clock arm.

Yet as we have argued before, large numbers dull the sober senses… as large bottles of wine dull the sober senses.

They glaze the eyes. They stupefy and gobsmack.

Let us therefore, again, reduce the airy abstract to hard concrete…

How to Imagine $1 Trillion

Let us begin by considering $1 trillion. The nonprofit Employment Policies Institute places one trillion into this perspective:

Let’s say someone told you to wait for something. If you waited 1,000 seconds, it’d only take about 17 minutes. If you waited 1 million seconds, you’d have to wait about 11.5 days… But if you waited 1 trillion seconds, you’d have to wait 31,688 years.

Imagine it if you can — 1 trillion seconds is 31,688 years.

But we are a financial newsletter. Money is our central concern. How much time is required to print $1 trillion?

Assume you are given command of the printing press. But you are limited to printing $1 bills.

But you are exceptionally energetic. And so you print one $1 bill each second of each day, midnight to midnight, 365 days of the 365.

How much time is required to print $1 trillion? Author Bill Bryson:

If you initialed $1 per second, you would make $1,000 every 17 minutes. After 12 days of nonstop effort you would acquire your first $1 million. Thus, it would take you 120 days to accumulate $10 million and 1,200 days — something over three years — to reach $100 million. After 31.7 years you would become a billionaire… But not until after 31,709.8 years would you count your trillionth dollar.

31,709.8 years! In the year 33,730, you may wipe the sweat from your brow… and sit down.

Assuming the Almighty grants you your threescore and 10 — 70 years — you will require 452.99 lifetimes to retire this debt.

Thus you may find your future… bleak.

Yet consider the alternative: Would you prefer to spend those 31,709.8 years roasting in hell?

The Bible is quite clear, after all. The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.

913,242.24 Years of Ceaseless Labor

Consider another enormity — the national debt — presently running, again, to $28.8 trillion.

You are committed to frugality in government. Each dollar you print you therefore consecrate to retiring the nation’s debt.

Thus we multiply 31,709.8 years by 28.8. Here is what we learn:

Reducing today’s $28.8 trillion debt to $0… would require 913,242.24 years of ceaseless labor — 13,046.31 lifetimes.

Commence today and the job is done in the year of our Lord 915,263.

And we are not factoring interest on this debt. We will spare you the calculations for fear of your sanity.

The business seems beyond all human agency, beyond all control.

‘What can I do?’ a fellow wonders. His shoulders he shrugs. His head he bows.

He may cluck-cluck his opposition to it all — and what sane man does not?

The Modern Monetary Theory zanies may be for it. They argue that greater and greater debt is the great elixir, the granite foundation of wealth everlasting, the goose that is golden.

But our normal man, he is no zany. He has good, hard sense in him. He is sturdy, he is sound.

He is also powerless. He is a man resigned…


Brian Maher

Brian Maher
Managing Editor, The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning