In This Game of Chicken, We All Lose

Report offers challenging yet pragmatic approach to fixing our nation’s financial woes.

August 07, 2011
KEYWORDS crisis , debt , political
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If you’re a fan of old, classic films, you may recall the scene in the 1955 James Dean movie “Rebel without a Cause.”

Dean’s troubled teenage character is challenged to a dangerous game of chicken that involves driving cars towards a cliff. “We both head for the edge, and who jumps first is the chicken,” says Dean’s antagonist.

Our fiscal future
“Choosing the Nation’s Fiscal Future” is a free, 338-page report by the National Academy of Public Administration and the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. Access it here.

Dean’s character jumps from his car at the last possible moment while his opponent, whose leather jacket sleeve becomes entwined with the car door handle, plunges to his death.

Watching the debate over the nation’s federal debt ceiling is like watching that scene over and over again, except that the car going over the cliff is our country’s fiscal health and our kids’ future.

Our national debt is staggering—$14 trillion and growing. And the political debate over the debt is staggering in its ineptness and in the toxic partisanship that poisons it.

Those with the loudest voices and most extreme views control the discussion. Average American working men and women are weary by the histrionics and are increasingly angry at the inability or unwillingness of our lawmakers and policymakers to compromise and forge a sustainable solution.

Those who fall within the moderate spectrums of the political right and left are especially dismayed as ideologues continue to play chicken—and come ever closer to driving the car over the cliff.

The saddest part of this self-inflicted game of mutual destruction is the reality that there’s no shortage of good plans. The plan proposed in “Choosing the Nation’s Fiscal Future” is a pretty good one.

Many of its recommendations are similar to those advocated by last December’s report from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, a presidential commission appointed by Barack Obama more commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles Commission after co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles.

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