Fiscal Cliff: Bewitchment?

George F. Will:

“Philosophy,” said the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, “is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” In unphilosophic Washington, bewitchment is cultivated. Notice how quickly and thoroughly a phrase used intermittently for more than 50 years — “fiscal cliff” — was made ubiquitous by one of Washington’s least flamboyant speakers (Ben Bernanke). This melodramatic language encourages the supposition that plunging off the (metaphorical) cliff is unthinkable. But as this column has hitherto noted, the cliff’s consequences — huge tax increases and defense cuts — are progressivism’s agenda. And Obama needs to restock the pantry where he stores his excuses for his economic policy failures. The tax increases would augment his policy of enlarging government’s control of the nation’s economic output, and he could henceforth blame continuing economic anemia on Republicans who supposedly should have averted what progressives desire.

The shrillness of “cliff” talk bewitches minds that should be skeptical about the supposed point of all this — deficit reduction. Conservatives, many of whom are such because they understand government’s metabolic urge to metastasize, believe that spending cuts will be chimeras.

Given Obama’s “principled” stance against “obdurate” Republicans, the cliff can be dodged only by imposing tax policies that further darken the nation’s future, and government spending would continue to rise even under the sequester-imposed “austerity.” More bewitchment of intelligence by language.

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  • Kyle J

    Someone pointed out that “bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language” is a pretty good description of what Mr. Will does for a living.

    Will defends the Norquist pledge because it’s technically made to voters? Does the fact that voters overwhelmingly believe tax rates on the wealthy should go up then factor into his thinking? But, of course, that “would darken the nation’s future.” That’s a lovely turn of phrase that nevertheless has no basis in empirical fact, hence bewitching our intelligence.

  • AHH

    Of course Will is selective in talking about the consequences of the “cliff”. It also includes some things that are the opposite of “progressiviism’s agenda”, such as increasing the tax burden on the working poor and big cuts in non-defense federal programs.

    Both “sides” have aspects of the cliff they wouldn’t mind and aspects they would hate. The question is whether there is enough overlap in those preferences, and enough willingness to compromise on lines in the sand in order to serve the greater good, and willingness to pass up opportunities to score partisan political points, for this to be resolved.

    I’m not very optimistic — I’m guessing we head over the cliff and then the new Congress in January (with a somewhat smaller Tea Party presence) works out a compromise that probably dodges some of the hard issues.

  • Dave

    See the Peter Schiff article “The Fiscal Cliff” linked below. It is from July, but still pertinent.

    Also, his current article, “Doing Away with Debt Ceiling Drama” is worth reading as well.