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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Our Epitaph: Point of no return? What's That?

The fiscal cliff and the grand bargain are both misnomers. When you're bent over a barrel you're not exactly in much of a position for hard bargaining, and the fiscal cliff is not so much a cliff, as it is a point of no return. Furthermore the point of no return itself is an ephemeral position, difficult to define and certainly unable to be plotted on any map.

Imagine a party of explorers in olden-times venturing across an unknown land. Along the way of their great adventure they witness incredible vistas and many strange and wonderful sights. They've been following a river which has provided them sustenance and water. One fateful day after a number of days when hunters brought back no meat, and fishermen brought back no fish, and foragers found no forage, the explorers all had a big tent meeting. They argued and debated and one eloquent explorer stood forth. He had a silver tongue and his argument was that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. He proposed a new direction and a new deal. They voted and most of the explorers voted to follow this leader in his new direction away from the river and towards a brighter tomorrow.

Things were tough at first. Hunters still weren't bringing back very much meat. Foragers were still failing to find very much forage, and the fishermen well...enough said. Storms lashed them, winter froze them, savages attacked them, but finally—at least for a while—things started looking better. It was then that they realized that a vast wasteland was before them. Confronting them was a trackless desert of searing heat and emptiness. Many of the explorers wanted to head back to the river at this point, but after sharp disagreement they voted to continue on. This desert couldn't be all that big or all that barren.

So they continued on until they found themselves where they are today. They are determined that they are going succeed in crossing this desert even though they have no idea what might be on the other side, or in fact whether there even is an other side. At some point in their journey through this hot trackless wasteland they will reach a point of no return. Now the moment when they will truly reach that point is a bone of great contention among them. Some of the explorers maintain that they have already reached it long ago when exactly half of their supplies were used up. Others maintain that that moment is still some unknown time in the future. There's no need to start scrimping on the daily quota of water and food just yet, they argue. They maintain that they could perhaps see their way to belt-tightening tomorrow or perhaps the day after that, but certainly not today. Never today! Today, they agreed is the time to eat, drink, and be merry.

Days pass in this way, and some of the explorers become increasingly concerned. They keep bringing up the inconvenient fact that scarce resources are growing steadily more scarce. When the day comes that three-fourths of their supplies are consumed, they have another big tent meeting. There is much arguing and debate about what they should do. Turning back carries with it the knowledge of failure. The pithy cliche that they tried and failed, but at least they tried, is a dead crow with a gamy flavor and a pungent odor that none of these adventurers are any too eager to taste.

The leader of the Forward faction argues that they should continue on, that a miraculous horizon will soon appear before them, a land of milk and honey with vistas of purple mountain's majesty and purple waves of grain. Or if not paradise then at least some small oasis from which they can perhaps refill empty water bladders and from this strengthened position, soldier on, forward.

The other side is heard from as well. The leader of the turn back before it’s too late faction says that this new direction away from the river was a big mistake. It is his argument that the explorers should have continued following that river from which they so misguidedly turned away from. "Back," he argues, "back to the river of plenty, to common sense and prosperity." "Yes, it's a long hard way back," he admits, "and there will be great hardship and trials getting there, but forward is a march going forward only to death."

Forward! thunders the intransigent progressive leader. His demeanor—from his perfectly creased pants to his dazzling smile—has an impressive style and a certain flair. He possesses this strange je ne sais quoi ambiance that is absolutely spell-binding to many of the explorers.

Later, everyone votes and it is a close run thing, but the die is cast and the vote is Forward. And so this motley crew of explorers will soon find out whether it is death or paradise that awaits them...forward.

I believe that these two outcomes are not mutually exclusive, but I don't generally favor going through one of them to achieve the other. Ah well, C'est la vie.

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