Monday, June 20, 2011

The Heaviest Tax Of All – “Uncertainty”

My channel surfing was interrupted a few nights ago by a re-run of a fascinating documentary that I had missed on the History Channel during the second of my two recent, 6,000-mile cross-country trips.

Entitled Prophets of Doom (to view online click here if you missed it), about imminent societal threats, it brought back a memory from 41 years ago this month.Capture

It was the dawn of an early morning in mid-1970 and we were stopping to fill a ‘65 Mustang convertible with gas.  Just into a 10-hour drive from Reseda, California en-route back to where I was attending college in Provo, Utah for summer session, we had stopped at a station near Palmdale, California.

When you’re just on the “back-side of 20 years old, ambition blinds you to the significance of some things such as the pricelessness of that Mustang, but I remember that morning like it was yesterday, especially the price-per-gallon on the meter.  On special in the wee hours of that morning, it was 25 cents.

That’s the same price that gas was in 1919, just a decade after the first Model T came off the assembly line, and well below the still wondrous 40 cents it averaged until the mid 1970s. Little did I know as I filled up that morning that the supply of oil was peaking in the United States that summer and tipping into decline, as experts predict it will globally within the next four years.

Even as I fill up today in Durham for $3.50 per gallon, much of society is still in denial about energy while political leaders bury well-documented warnings by experts as they did the Hirsch Report six years ago.

Viewing that one and one-half hour documentary reminds us that regardless of what Conservative David Brooks calls the “Republican growth agenda – tax cuts and nothing else” which he terms “stupefyingly boring, fiscally irresponsible and politically impossible,” we’re already paying what Thomas Friedman describes as a much heavier but hidden “uncertainty tax”, but not just because of the downturn or the deficit which pale in my opinion to two of the more devastating threats to sustainability noted in the documentary:  energy and water.

Each of the six people featured in the documentary roundtable focused on a different aspect.  One of these six experts on the Prophets of Doom documentary, Dr. Nathan Hagens, an economist and former hedge fund manager, paraphrases a behavior phenomena from the 2004 book Collapse- How societies choose to fail or succeed by Dr. Jared Diamond:

“people three miles downriver from a dam that is failing are really afraid, people two miles downstream are really freaked out but people one mile from the dam are unconcerned.”

Brooks’s accusations that “the Democrats are doing nothing” isn’t quite fair.  It is clear that President Obama eschews agenda-driven deficit reduction tactics that are an excuse for ideological social engineering.  It just makes sense to begin first with cutting wasteful past practices such as the one noted when clicking here, and by reforming the tax code and eliminating corporate welfare.

But I’m unimpressed by the fact that neither major political party is coming up with fresh ideas nor are they showing an indication that there is a sense of urgency.

Just as the documentary is not all doom and gloom, there are many policy analysts such as those in the moderate Third Way seeking to avoid “the rigid or outdated orthodoxies of both the left and right..” and the ideologically-driven policies and political gridlock…”, “one that discards the false choices presented by both sides.”

The Third Way demonstrates that fresh solutions are abundant.  Time is running out but if we really care, people on all sides need to park their “confirmation bias” at the door and lower the “uncertainty tax” by tempering argument and debate with cooperation.

If not, then yes, this society is doomed but as the experts note, we don’t have to be doomed with it.

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