Near the depths of Plains Indians defeats in the American conquest, the Paiute shaman Wovoka had a vision of the Second Coming of Christ in which the resurrected Jesus promised to save the Indians from the white man. The new religion was widely adopted. (The religion figured in the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek, since the Indian Agency had become convinced that the Lakota were blessing shirts to be invulnerable to bullets). In fact, the religion would have facilitated the acculturation (genocide) of the Plains Indians by accommodating demands that children be sent away for schooling, among other points:
According to the prophecy, the recent times of suffering for Indians had been brought about by their sins, but now they had withstood enough under the whites. With the earth destroyed, white people would be obliterated, buried under the new soil of the spring that would cover the land and restore the prairie. The buffalo and antelope would return, and deceased ancestors would rise to once again roam the earth, now free of violence, starvation, and disease. The natural world would be restored, and the land once again would be free and open to the Indian peoples, without the borders and boundaries of the white man.
Needless to say, the vision remains unfulfilled.
The fables we hear about the debt are far more pernicious than the Ghost Dance. For all I know, Wovoka’s vision was true. The same cannot be said of Catherine Rampell’s column in the New York Times, which promises us that we can painlessly grow out of our debt. (Atrios, in his appealingly simplistic way, described this as “the other way to cure the deficit is, you know, awesome”):
But there is, in theory, a happy solution to our debt troubles. It’s called economic growth. No need to raise taxes or cut programs. Just get the economy growing the way it used to.
We wouldn’t need any of that [taxes, cut spending, have inflation, or default] if we could restore economic growth. If that happened, Americans would become richer and pay more taxes. Et voilà! — we’d pay down the debt painlessly.
Crazy as that might sound, particularly given Friday’s figures, the possibility isn’t some economic equivalent of that nice big farm where your childhood dog Skip was sent to run free. There are precedents.
Well, actually, it is on par with telling kids that you’re sending the family dog to the farm when you’re prepping him for euthanasia. Rampell cites as a precedent Ireland, which did indeed enjoy some good decades of growth: partly because it was starting from a very low base, partly because it was able to exploit the American trend of capital flight to low-wage countries, and partly because a large part of the growth was illusory, based on massive overvaluation of real estate… all of these much like the Japanese “miracle” which crashed two decades ago and has never been revived.
Jack Kemp used to tell us that he was running on “hope, growth, and opportunity.” It was a great slogan. But on the growth part, let’s be realistically. The American economy has never sustained 5% growth in the modern era. Even if we regarded the bottom end of our economy as the Third World that it is rapidly becoming, by properly investing in it, we might be able to get 7-10% growth of 10-20% of our economy… in other words, we might add about a percent to our historic growth to get near 4%. For that matter, since we need to reduce resource consumption, we might have to achieve higher standards of living without raising GDP as much as we are accustomed to… which has implications for debt service.
Ultimately, we do need higher taxes, less wars, and a much more efficient medical insurance system. The latter will cost, not create jobs, and winding down our overspending on the military will cause great pain to some areas. There is no solution to our problems that is pain free. But let the pain be inflicted on those who have enjoyed decades of overstuffing themselves, not on the poor, the sick, the elderly, and those struggling just to stay in a home.
(written in partial answer to Atrios, and Chicago Dyke in comments)