Spoiled Brats

     I taught in high schools for 9 years, and got to know 2,000 or so students pretty well, and knew thousands more along the way. Of all those young people, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number I thought were spoiled brats.
     So it’s hard to understand how our country managed to be taken over by spoiled brats.
     President Obama’s recent statement to Congress to “eat your peas” in the budget fiasco was the proper level on which to address those brats.
     But the 535 members of Congress would not be there unless other brats had voted for them.
     Let me be clear what I mean about spoiled brats. A spoiled brat is, first of all, inordinately selfish. He thinks the world and all the people in it are here to cater to him – and that that’s the way it ought to be.
     People become spoiled brats through a very simple process: by never having to suffer the consequences of their actions.
     A brat’s first, last and only reaction to any difficulty, aside from whining about how unfair it is, is to blame someone else.
     That’s us.
     To describe Congress’ reaction to our economic peril, I will have to borrow a term from the philosopher Harry Frankfurt.
     The term is bullshit.
     Bullshit, as Frankfurt explained in his excellent book, “On Bullshit,” is not exactly lying. It’s saying things that you know are not true, not because you hope to deceive anyone by it – it’s just bullshit.
     When the Tea Party brats in Congress say that the only way to address our budget disaster is through a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, that’s not governing, or even trying to govern. It’s bullshit.
     The United States will default on its debt unless Congress raises the debt limit by Aug. 2. That’s a drop-dead date.
     To presume, as the Tea Party brats do, that two-thirds of both houses of Congress and three-fourths of the state legislatures will ratify a constitutional amendment by Aug. 2, is bullshit.
     Brats want stuff without paying for it. Congress, above all the brats in the Tea Party, say that paying taxes for what government provides us is evil. Because taxes are evil.
     That’s bullshit.
     Taxes are not evil, and raising taxes will not hurt business. Here’s a simple proof. Day after day, shareholders file class action lawsuits accusing corporations of reporting false profits. Corporations do this to prop up their share price, and so their executives can get enormous bonuses.
     But why would a corporation report false profits if it were taxed fairly on its profits?
     I have yet to see a class action accuse a corporation of under-reporting its profits, which is what it would do if it needed to dodge taxes.
     The only rational answer is that corporations are not taxed fairly on profits. If they were, they would not report imaginary profits.
     There are all sorts of ways the government can balance its books. We could impose a $1 a gallon federal tax on gasoline until the books are balanced. That would bring in $386 million a day – $141 billion a year. We could even exempt transporters of necessary goods from the tax, or give them full rebates. We would still end up paying less money for gas than most of the developed world. But that will not happen because the U.S. Congress is catering to spoiled brats.
     We could impose a tenth of a penny transaction fee on each stock sale. That would not harm the economy either. Every honest investor, from Warren Buffett on down, knows that the way to buy stocks is to buy shares in a good company and hold them.
     People and institutions that trade in blocs of millions of shares at a time manipulate the market by the simple act of buying or selling. They are not investing. They are playing games. They can afford to pay a tenth of a penny a trade to play their games.
     I could go on, but there is no point. You can’t argue with a brat. If you’re a teacher, you can’t even slap him. The only way out that I can see is to turn the country over to children. Or have we already done that?

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