Why Aren’t We as Brave as the British?
I apologize for the disjointed letter posted previously.
I was prompted to write it by the movie “Mrs. Miniver,” which I watched a while ago. It is about an upper middle class family in England from the period just before World War II until well into the war. The movie was made during the war, and on TCM, the “The End” screen said something like, “America needs your money. Buy bonds.” In the movie, before the war the British husband and wife are somewhat extravagant, the wife buying a silly hat and the husband a fancy car. But once the war starts they get serious like real Brits. They make sacrifices while keeping a stiff upper lip.
I thought that same attitude was somewhat illustrated during William and Kate’s wedding. Queen Elizabeth is a living link to the sacrifices made by Brits during World War II and the London Blitz. Today Britain and the United States both face financial turmoil due to the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. The Brits under PM Cameron have elected to pursue a course requiring more sacrifice that the US has. That’s more in the British character than in America’s.
In Ben Bernanke’s press conference, we saw the competing themes of fighting inflation versus reducing unemployment. The Brits are more willing to endure the hardship of unemployment in order to get their financial house in order than the US is. We see Americans unwilling to sacrifice anything, even small cuts to Medicare benefits on the one hand, or higher taxes on the other. We need spending cuts and higher taxes, but nobody is willing to make the hard choices that calls for.
I like Ben Bernanke because he is one of the few people in Washington facing these hard choices and doing something. People say he is just following in Greenspan’s “easy money” footsteps, but I don’t think so. He is facing a very different situation. I like Elizabeth Warren because she also seems to have the moral character, so lacking in Washington, necessary to face these hard choices. She has staked out a little issue, making businesses deal fairly with consumers, and has been met with a buzz saw of opposition from big business.
After I watched “Mrs. Miniver,” I thought, “Well, I could buy some bonds.” The Japanese do it. Their indebtedness is one of the highest of any major nation, but it is not like our debt to China, because the Japanese owe it to themselves. They buy their own bonds. So, why don’t we? First, I found that it is hard to buy US savings bonds. You can’t buy paper bonds anymore. You can only buy them electronically and store them on some Treasury web site. With changing email addresses, lost passwords, etc., that is a recipe for disaster for me. I don’t mind electronic banking, as long as there is a real, brick bank somewhere that can send me a paper statement if I want one.
While it has gotten harder to buy savings bonds, it has gotten easier to buy Treasury bonds through a broker. That change illustrates how our economy favors the rich over average citizens. You can put thousands in your 401(k), but you can’t buy a $25 savings bond for your kid’s birthday. But, why not buy bonds anyway? Right now the problem is that the US Congress refuses to put the full faith and credit of the United States behind the bonds. They are going to bicker over raising the debt ceiling, and leave open the possibility that they will default on US bonds. If they were serious about solving the debt crisis, they would immediately raise the debt ceiling, if only by a little bit, so that there is no risk of default, and then begin the process of cutting spending and raising taxes. But some groups want to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip. It is sort of like saying, “If you don’t agree to my terms, I will blow my brains out.” The terms may be stupid, but no one wants to see someone else blow his brains out, especially if “he” is the country we live in. In Vietnam the old saying was, “We had to destroy the village to save it.” Are we now going to say this about America?