Mendacity and the GOP

For sheer mendacity, it's hard to beat this year's GOP hardliners.

They're the ones, after all, who plan to block any deal to raise our debt ceiling they don't like. Who are willing to force a global depression by tipping America into default, insisting all the while that the choice is between unlimited government borrowing forever, and shrinking the government, and that their plan is best for America in the long run.

I don't mind these people trying to control the issue by drumming on a phony choice -- that we either shrink the government, or collapse. It's easily dismissed, after all, since there's no reason we can't both avoid default and straighten out our finances.

I don't even mind that they wasted time voting for a balanced budget amendment that would have made it impossible for America to defend itself in wartime -- by outlawing deficit spending to finance said war; the Senate killed that bill on Friday, and even at the House vote, it was never considered anything but symbolic politics. And I don't mind they'd rather see retirees dying under bridges than finance Medicare and Social Security.

But I do mind people who know better posing as true patriots, then insisting on an American government totally unable to deal with the future. I do mind their trying to sell us that based on the fantasy that we can somehow disconnect ourselves from the world.

I mean, these people are not stupid. They were smart enough to get elected to Congress in the first place. They've been told -- point blank -- that thinking default "wouldn't be so bad" is a fantasy. And they have better information than the rest of us.

So they have to know their concept of a weak government, offering minimal services, is no government that can "...promote the general welfare." They have to know that in a world where things like fire departments and police departments are private businesses, said services will go to people who can afford them, and devil take the hindmost.

But more importantly, I do mind they think we can plan for the future without considering the impact of over-population, global business, computerization and modern telecommunications.

Here's what I mean.

The world's population is about 7 billion and counting. The U.S. population is about 310 million and counting. The really large companies, the ones that make trade, innovation, and employment happen, are international. Manufacturing is increasingly the realm of robots, controlled by computers and a handful of technicians.

For that matter, almost all work is being automated; about the only work that won't be will be done by people who can maintain and fix things, by people like me, in sales or in medicine, among that handful of technicians, and by people who own things and make decisions about them. And in that world, all work except that last sort is going to the low-cost provider.

Considering the pace of computerization, the growth of satellite communications, and population growth, this means that within our lifetimes, the deciding factor about where manufacturing of any sort takes place will be the cost of electricity; producing most mass-produced goods will become so cheap that the cost of shipping them to market will be secondary -- even more than it is now.

This means that most work that is available will concentrate in a few global centers -- New York, London, Shanghai, or Singapore, say -- or where population drives the cost of labor to the relative vanishing point.

Affecting that calculation: The ordinary distribution of intelligence.

Only about 2.2 percent of any given population has an IQ over 130. But while that means America's population of 310 million includes about 6.8 million geniuses, it also means that China's 1.3 billion people include about 28.6 million geniuses. India's 1.2 billion people, for that matter, include about 24 million geniuses -- and they speak English.

Looked at that way, it's not hard to see where most of the world's highest-quality, lowest-cost workers live -- and where most of tomorrow's jobs will be.

Likewise, the main question being raised by the right wing -- how do we minimize government to maximize individual liberty -- seems sort of quaint, no?

That question is only aggravated by the fact that the '07-'08 crash taught Americans to live within their means and stop buying stuff they don't need. Morally, that's a good thing. And that will eventually drive up our savings rate -- another good thing.

But higher savings means lower spending. And lower spending, in a consumer-based economy, can't drive the annual, double-digit earnings growth we expect from investments in consumer-based companies. This in turn must drive down the available yields, from pension funds and 401(k)s, meant to support the very long lives in retirement created by modern medicine.

As it is, about 24 million Americans -- one in six -- are out of work or barely working today, in an economy that, even among the most optimistic prognosticators, will be unlikely to create many jobs for the foreseeable future, much less enough jobs to absorb the available workforce.

It's been proven pretty conclusively by now that employers aren't hiring because demand doesn't justify it. And it's reasonable to assume that if retail sales decline, retail jobs will follow suit, while in the future, manufactured goods will be increasingly produced by robots.

It doesn't take one of America's 7 million geniuses to see that added together, America's real challenge going forward won't be how to maximize liberty -- it's going to be how to keep the lid on.

As things are coming along, after all -- and in the not-so-distant future -- tens of millions of Americans won't be working. More or less permanently. The reasons won't matter--they'll have nothing to do. Many of them it's true will be retired; but many of them won't be, and while the retired have a stake in the status quo, the rest won't.

There are only be a few ways of dealing with that state of affairs. Prisons are one; but prisons are expensive -- about $22,000 a year per prisoner -- and when people get out, they're more dangerous than when they went in. Even worse: telling people that life's all about individual responsibility, then leaving them with their noses pressed against the window.

And even if and when new technology creates industries we can't even imagine today, is it really pessimism to observe that more of those jobs will be performed by machines than by people?

Assuming we're not about to start shooting people, that leaves buying them off somehow -- the dreaded, socialistic welfare state we always hear about.

This is where mendacity and the hardline GOP comes in. As I say, they're smart people, and they have access to the best information. There's nothing magical or hidden about what I just laid out -- even if they haven't read about it, there are plenty of people to tell your average member of the GOP the same thing.

So they have to know this. Which begs the question: What are their priorities?

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Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the number of geniuses in China and India and has been corrected.

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