October 31, 2011: Helloween

October 31st draws near.  All Hallow’s Eve, the ghoulish celebration of the dead in Anglo-American world, is known for colorful costumes, pranks and candy.  This year, however, October the 31st will see two horrifying milestones being crossed.

The first is that the population of the world will pass the 7 billion mark, according to the United Nations.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is, however, that population growth is slowing.  It will peak at around at 10 billion in 2050, and taper off thereafter.  This poses demographic and economic problems, but on the whole, the news is scary.  The planet is already crowded enough, and it’s set to get more crowded for the bulk of my lifetime.  By the time that I’m going to be 70, that’s when my generation will start dying off in droves, and we’ll have to let the youngsters clean up the mess that we left to them.  God bless ’em and good luck.

So, if that’s not scary enough for you, how about this: the United States federal debt is set to cross the historic post-WWII high of 100% of GDP on Halloween as well.  In layman’s terms, that means that the total amount of debt the United States federal government holds will be equal to an entire year’s economic output of America.  This is historic.  The only time that this has ever happened was when America was in the midst of fighting the Germans and Japanese during the Second World War, and the postwar economic boom and tax cuts whittled that percentage down lower and lower until fiscally ‘conservative’ President Ronald Reagan went on a massive spending binge on the armed forces, cut taxes massively, and presided over a huge expansion of the federal government, a trend that only Democratic presidents (Clinton and Obama), ironically, have since countered.

Both of these problems threaten our existence, both as Americans, and as human beings.  Both issues are going to be hellishly difficult to fix, and both require a massive reservoir of courage, as the solutions are going to likely be not only wildly unpopular, but rather painful to stomach.  And in this day and age, aversion to pain and an ongoing quest for popularity are the hallmarks of our elected leaders.  It’s going to be hard, but it’s not impossible.  Being Americans, we’re going to wait some more, like we always do (Yankees love procrastination).  While that’ll make the problem harder to solve in some ways, likely, by the time that it reaches crisis proportions, we’ll have more malleable partners, and consensus will be easier to build.  But until that happens, expect both of these time bombs to tick away until they become too ominous either to ignore or pretend like they’re not really there.  Because at some point, they’re both going to explode, and we had better get on top of this problem to defuse it, rather than to be sitting in ignorant bliss on top of it when they detonate.

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