A Few Thoughts on the Sequester
Note: I'm not an expert on politics. I'm just frustrated. Pardon my vitriol.
“Jedi mind meld”? Really, Mr. President? That’s an egregious mixed metaphor. Anyone in the know could tell you that if there is one unforgivable sin among sci-fi fans, it is mixing Star Wars and Star Trek.
However, a large number of the aforementioned fans are either politically liberal or politically apathetic, so I expect that ultimately nothing will come of this little faux pas.*
If you’re spending more money than you make, there are two things you can do about it: Make more money, and spend less money.
To insist that we should (or even can) solve the deficit problem by doing one of these two things, but not the other, is ridiculous.
That’s not politics. That’s simple math. It’s common sense—except, apparently, to a substantial number of people who have to make the decision on how we’re going to get out of this deficit.
(For the record, I believe we need to spend a lot less than we currently do. I believe that we need to be much more careful about what we do with our money—especially with how much of it we send out of the country. But spending cuts can only go so far. We won’t be able to fix this thing if we don’t increase revenue. Sadly, I expect that means higher taxes.)
A conversation I had with another teacher today convinced me more than ever that what I teach is necessary even for people who aren’t going into science as an occupation. One thing that chemistry and the sequester have in common is that they both demonstrate how bad most people are when confronted with big numbers.
People are freaking out over the $85 billion in cuts that will take effect later tonight. $85 billion sounds like a big number, and it is—but not in the context of a $3.5 trillion budget (if that’s what you call the way we’re spending money right now).
Eighty-five billion looks like this: 85,000,000,000
Three point five trillion looks like this: 3,500,000,000,000
Too big to wrap your head around? Don’t feel bad; most people have difficulty with numbers that big. Let’s make it easier by taking nine zeroes off each number. Now the numbers become 85 and 3,500.
So, in essence, this means that the sequester will shave $85 off a $3,500 operating budget. Or, to clarify further, let’s move the decimal point another two places to the left. The sequester saves us 85 cents on a 35-dollar purchase.
But this is the thing that really gets me: Why are we surprised that this is happening? Why are we angry? Why did we not see this coming?
Because we’re stupid. That's the sum of it. The plain and simple truth of the matter is: We chose this.
Think for a minute. Of course this is happening. It’s happening because the same people who couldn’t—wouldn’t—solve the problem months ago (and who damaged our nation’s credit rating in the process, thanks a heap) are the same people who are making the decisions now. That’s insane. What makes us think it wouldn’t happen?
Last November, we had the opportunity to change things. We had the chance to vote out the President, to vote out the entire House of Representatives, and to vote out one-third of the Senate. So what did we do? We voted overwhelmingly to maintain the status quo. We said, with our ballots, that we thought things were just fine the way they were.
In what universe can we even pretend to think things might have turned out differently?
Albert Einstein once said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Well, obviously. It doesn't take an Einstein to figure that one out. It's so obvious, I can hardly believe it needs to be said at all. And yet, apparently it does need to be said, because apparently we as a nation are so thick, so indoctrinated, so out of touch with reality that we thought the problem would magically solve itself when we did nothing to change the conditions that caused the problem in the first place.
But hey, at least we got to vote for it.
So, enjoy the sequester, everyone. We've earned it.
*After all, it’s not like he said there’s “no silver bullet against gun violence” or something inane like that.