US debt crisis as a clash of stories

childrens museum tug of war

Children's museum tug of war, Photo by Paul J. Everett, Flickr Creative Commons


I’ve been listening to politicians from the left and right as they tell their versions of debt in the U.S. The right insists no agreement is possible without a constitutional amendment capping debt. The left insists no agreement is possible without raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Each side claims the other’s story is a false interpretation of the way things really work.

I confess bias toward the left. The gap between rich and poor in the U.S. is the worst in the world, and it keeps on widening. The trickle-down story, where leaving money in the hands of corporations and the wealthiest ensures jobs for everyone else, has proven fictional but still has incredible staying power.

It’s clear the U.S. needs a new and healthier story of how government should function in a democratic society. The minimal-government right is suspicious of anything that gives power to those not in the producing sector, as if roads, hospitals, schools, libraries, and parks were not of benefit to everyone. They are suspicious of all regulations, as if industry would, on its own, stop polluting our streams, land and air and poisoning our bodies.

No side has a corner on The One True Story. Life is far too complex for that. However, it seems to me that any country in which the predominant story is focused more on accumulation of wealth than on egalitarian principles is doomed to failure.

An article published on Oakland Local last December said of the need for viable stories, “In a world so out of balance, we need landmarks and milestones to help us see the way forward. Narrative is like a series of virtual cairns that help us stay on the path.”

May the U.S. build new cairns before once again bringing the world to its financial knees.

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