As this is being written, it's the last day before the “fiscal cliff.” While it doesn't quite have the ominous ring of the Mayan end of the world prediction - the metaphor of a cliff has been an effective media attention grabber. To be sure, there are some real consequences down the cankicking road such as spending cuts, significant tax increases and immediate unemployment benefits expiring for a couple of million people. On the other side of the ledger is a national debt exceeding $16 trillion that has been increasing at a rate of nearly four billion a day over the last five years. Sixteen trillion in a giant sheet of hundred dollars bills could be folded into an origami swan the size of the former planet Pluto.
Deadlines create drama, because at least in theory, there is no extension or reversal. Y2K was much anticipated largely in part because of its fixed point in time. Oh boy, a countdown to the end – I can't wait. For instance, I could tell you a meteorite will slam into the earth where your house is located at some undisclosed time in the future and get a big yawn. However, if I said it will happen next Tuesday at noon, now, that would get your attention and the proper ensuing sarcasm and ridicule when the deadline passed.
And so it goes with the "cliff." It sounds like it has a strong element of finality - but does it really? The whole mess is a lose/lose proposition that has been going on for a long time and could very well stagger on for a good while. One consolation will be that the “fiscal cliff” catch phrase should fade away, no doubt, giving way to a new mnemonic hook to mesmerize us such “Monetary Mountain” or “Economic Armageddon.” Different names, same predicted scenario.
The scenario is one that I've heard all my adult life with Chicken Little teaming up with The Boy Who Cried Wolf. It's the economic and/or ecological sky that is always falling but never quite reaching the ground. Add to the mix, the possibility of WWIII, and thinking about the future can become a real downer. Are doom and gloom forecasts fables or tomorrow's facts?
I suppose facts are only facts after the fact, which sounds like something Donald Rumsfeld or Yogi Berra would say. I have no definitive prediction of the future, fiscal cliff or otherwise. It's just a vague uncertainly with positive and negative elements blended together with guesstimates of statistical probability added for good measure.
I suspect that some kind of fiscal “deal” will be struck before the clock runs out. These types of political theater remind me of a Harlem Globetrotter basketball game - lots of show, but the outcome is never in doubt. Besides, it's really not a cliff, it's more like an incline. We'll just have to wait and see to find out if the stars and stripes semi truck has any working air brakes.