A couple weeks ago I was preparing to invest a little money into my kids’ college accounts when doubts made me hesitate.
I was all ready to hit “send” when I thought: What if the federal government defaults?
Whatever portion I was putting into the stock market would probably crater if that happens. So why not wait?
So that’s what I did. I waited. And I still am, weeks later — waiting around for the dysfunction in the Other Washington to either explode into a full-blown crisis, or, more likely, to subside momentarily. Only to be recycled in yet another shutdown showdown this winter.
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The Other Washington is suffocating us.
I know my little college fund noninvestment decision is trivial in the scheme of things. It’s also a little irrational. But for me it was a psychological first: The only time in my life I’ve taken an action based solely on third-world-style political instability occurring in my own country.
I’m not alone. Every week Gallup surveys we the people about our “economic confidence.” Since the government shutdown began two weeks ago, this confidence index has plunged 19 points to the lowest level since … wait for it … since the last time Congress heedlessly drove the nation to the brink of default, in the fall of 2011.
OK, so I’m too skittish to put a couple grand in the stock market, so what?
Well, multiply my tiny nonaction by potentially tens of millions. That’s a lot of purchases delayed, jobs unfilled or cash stuffed in mattresses.
Economists estimate the last debt showdown, in 2011, cut $150 billion off the economy due to mass hesitancy like this. This one has cost us a half-point off economic growth already. A debt default, even a short-term one, could cost 2.5 million jobs.
And for what? That’s the aggravation at the heart of all this. What’s the point?
First it was supposed to be to cancel Obamacare. Then it morphed into the general war over the size of government. Both are legitimate issues, but at least previously, who won policy fights like these was decided by elections. By the people. Not by whoever threatens to inflict the most financial pain on the people.
But that’s the new school GOP hardball. Give us what we want or we’ll shoot the country. I covered Congress when it was considered radical politics to impeach a president for lying about sex with an intern. Seems kind of quaint now, doesn’t it?
The other crime about this is that things are otherwise going fine. The private-sector economy is growing. The budget deficit is falling fast. There’s no burning reason to have this standoff right now. It really is just ideological mayhem.
I don’t know how we get out of this spiral. Third party? Support for the idea is at a 10-year high, according to Gallup. But that’s in the abstract. In real life, third parties often end up more extreme and divorced from reality than the flawed ones we’ve already got (Tea party, anyone?)
This crisis is so manufactured and insane we’ve become an international spectacle.
“It is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world,” the Chinese government said in a statement.
That’s crazy talk, right? Never bet against America.
But in my own small way, that’s what I did the other week, when I balked at investing. I bet “no.” For now anyway. The Other Washington is running too much of a zealot fever.
My “no” bet is a subtle form of “de-Americanizing.” Only it’s worse than anything the Chinese could do to us. Because we’re doing this one to ourselves.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org