Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How our government is killing our economy

This is a two part post. Please see, "How Wall Street is killing our economy."

In order to best explain what I think is wrong with our government, I would like to spend some time talking about the autonomic nervous system (if you know me, you know how I love metaphors).

The autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts: sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest). A person is always in one state or the other, but never both at the same time.

The sympathetic nervous system takes charge during times of crisis. Blood is diverted from the brain and digestive tract and shunted to the heart and the muscles (because you need to either fight or run away). We have all seen a person or animal in panic mode, and we've all been in panic mode ourselves. We don't think when we are in panic mode; we react. In lesser states of panic (such as embarrassment or nervousness) we might notice that our mouth is dry, our hearing and vision is heightened, and in hindsight we have probably noticed that we make poor decisions under stress.

The parasympathetic nervous system takes charge when we are not under stress. Our heart rate goes down, our blood pressure drops, our muscles relax, and our body diverts resources to our brain and digestive system.

It's important to understand that while we have no conscious control over the effects of our autonomic nervous system, we often have a great deal of influence over the circumstances in our lives that trigger the "fight or flight" or "rest and digest" states. We have all noticed that some people, whether by virtue of their character or life skills, are more prone to be in constant states of panic while others seem prepared to weather any storm.

And that brings me to the current state of our government. Our government is trapped in panic mode, running around from crisis to crisis, putting out fires, with no ability to think logically and make the long-term decisions that will keep the next fire from starting. A good example of this is the sequester; in a last minute panic to come to a deal on the debt ceiling, Congress put in place a future date where all tax breaks would expire and devastating budget cuts would automatically take effect. The idea was not that this sequester would actually happen, but that both Republicans and Democrats would be forced to work together to keep it from happening. Unfortunately, ideas hatched during times of panic are rarely good ideas, and the sequester ended up being yet another fire that Congress was only able to throw a towel over at the last possible moment... and now we're on to the next debt ceiling crisis.

Our country needs leaders with vision and bold ideas. We need Manifest Destiny, infrastructure projects, a New Deal, a Space Program. But the fact is that we're not capable of doing anything great because we are too heavily invested in managing crises that we keep creating.

I hadn't yet finished this post when I watched the State of the Union address, and was surprised to see everything I wanted to talk about unfolding right before my eyes. President Obama talked about how "The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to another." He talked about bold ideas and infrastructure projects. And then Marco Rubio brought my metaphor to life by demonstrating exactly what a person in a sympathetic state looks and acts like. [Referring to Marco Rubio's Response to the State of the Union Address where he is wide-eyed, dry-mouthed, forgetting his lines and unable to so much as take a sip of water.]

I love it when a plan comes together.

Of course, I turn on the television today, and we're back to politics as usual. A whole lot of squawking and peacocking about, and no one is willing to stick their neck out and take any positive action.

You see, occasionally when a human or animal finds themselves in a sympathetic "fight or flight" mode, they become completely incapable of fighting OR fleeing.

They simply freeze and do nothing.

And then they die.