Wednesday, July 27, 2011

default only sucks when you have your wages garnished.

So it looks like the United States (which part? The government? Big Biz? You and Me? My cats?) will default on an epic, multi-generational mountain of debt.

What this means remains unclear to me.

When an individual defaults -- on student loans, a credit card, or a mortgage -- it usually spells some kind of real trouble. Wages and income tax refunds can be garnished. Bankruptcy can be just around the corner. Your credit rating can jump off a cliff, which really sucks if you're looking for a job; employers now routinely turn down applications from people whose credit is sending up little dust clouds, Wyle E. Coyote-style, from the bottom of a ravine.

In short, your life ceases to be a party when you default on something. The larger the debt, the more suckitude you can expect to experience.

But what about The Government? What happens when a government defaults? Remember that a government is made up of mostly-elected officials who are supposed to have our interests in mind when they act, and you immediately understand that, even if the United States defaults, these elected officials won't lose their Social Security, health coverage or pensions. No matter what happens they are probably going to be in much better shape than you and me. In fact, unless they have a serious gambling problem, they are probably set for life.

This is, to my thinking, simply another facet of the aformentioned sucktiude.

But on the ground, if the government defaults and loses its precious Standard-and-Poor rating, will you and I suddenly find ourselves unemployed, destitute, hungry and homeless the next day?
Probably not.
For those with stable employment, the results won't be apparent for some time. But I suspect that we will all be required to adjust our standard of living downward, permanently, and perhaps a little sooner than anyone expects.

This could be an ideal time to begin voluntarily weaning ourselves off excessive use of home heating and air conditioing and those pesky, sub-two-mile trips by car, just so we can get used to it when we really need to do it.
It's also a good time for individuals to know how to do lots of different things pretty well.
As Robert Heinlein liked to say, "specialization is for insects".

I'm not fear-mongering here. I think the good life is still possible. I'm living something very close to it right now. I have a job, a place to live, a loving partner and good family and friends around me. I'm not rich (far from it), but I am blessed. A governmental default won't change most of that anytime soon, and it won't change any of what really matters, ever.
I just think we'll all need to readjust our definition of what constitutes the good life.
Think closer to home and to the ones you love. Family and friends are always an excellent place to begin this sort of thinking.

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