beware, there be spoilers: Jailbird

One of the interesting ideas that Vonnegut introduces in Jailbird, as a passing comment by our narrator Walter Starbuck is the notion of government as a Ponzi scheme.

There is something to this idea, but I’d like to unpick it a bit and see where we find ourselves. We find ourselves at an interesting point in our history, having as we have unbound our monetary systems from extrinsic sources of value. Fiat currencies, underpinned by our faith in government rather than something we can hold, such as gold.

Some long time ago, I speculated about money as a doomsday device, and I think there’s a lot more there to unpick. But looking around, we see governments racking up large debts for future generations to pay.

The solution of course, as we have been told many a time, is to grow the economy, so the debt burden becomes a smaller percentage of the nation’s ability to create wealth, but we are then faced with the issue of our elected officials not adequately curating the nation’s ability to grow.

But this isn’t a Ponzi scheme. We are borrowing from the future to fund our present, and I think this is an issue that’s fundamental to governments of the people, by the people, for the people. Perhaps it’s that we’ve become used to our governments not providing a clear picture of the consequences of our actions and requests, and of us not looking for a clear picture.

I’m writing this as the sun comes up on a beautiful day, and so I don’t want to get too pessimistic, but I’m beginning to wonder. What is the path we should be taking? We cannot get everything we want, because wanting more and more is an asymptotic process, and we seem to have found ourselves in a situation where more and more is never enough.

Perhaps the basic problem is one of time. Perhaps we are setting our time horizons too near to the present, and not considering the consequences of our actions in 100 years time, or 200. Predicting the future is a difficult thing, but I wonder if we can start to take the view that we shouldn’t make our future lives any more difficult than we need to.

So perhaps government is a Ponzi scheme, borrowing more and more from the future to satisfy the demands of the present, with everyone being complicit in the scheme.

~ by Jim Anderson on 25 August 2018.

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