Friday, April 11, 2014

How Fragile are Our Governments?

Since beginning this project eleven years earlier, I have especially been focused on macroeconomic concerns. What's more, the Great Recession made monetary policy a primary part of public debate, where it has remained. And - in spite of the recovery - macroeconomic issues surrounding the onset of the recession, are far from being resolved. Just the same, there are days when an ongoing emphasis on the bigger picture, presents a problem for this blogger.

Numerous times, I have started posts with the intention of detailing more specific local options, only to end up - once again - writing about the broader version of the issues involved! Let alone the fact that these are also the posts which are most interesting to my readers.

Just the same, there are times when I need to delve further into frameworks which suggest ideas for better resource coordination, locally. These frameworks already need to be a part of active and ongoing discussion - hence widely understood - if and whenever larger systems falter. And a couple of posts this morning, made me wonder a bit more than usual, about impending fragility on the part of national government. The fact remains: when governments stumble, people need to figure out better means of social and economic coordination in a hurry. This is one of those moments when the micro and macro definitions people rely on, need to intersect through better application in the marketplace.

Today's most telling example of something gone wrong, comes from the Washington Post. Seriously, did Social Security and the IRS really have to resort to making the younger generations responsible, for decades old debts of their elders? It seems unthinkable that they resorted to this, yet amazing that this odd situation has only now come to light. I used to think it was crazy - how many second hand items had to be sold, before hospital thrift store volunteers could pay for some needed technology for the local hospital. How many low income people have to be bilked for old unpaid Social Security bills, just to pay for one Washington event? Optimization FAIL.

One of the things that was once touted as a major achievement for civilization, was the fact that people were no longer held responsible for debts or deeds of family members. Indeed, I remember well my sense of relief at a young age, that humanity had progressed to that degree. Fast forward to the recent present, and a circumstance which feels oddly related to the above link. Several individuals at Social Security couldn't seem to get the facts quite right, when my mother died last year.

In recent months they have taken further cuts from Dad's Social Security, and upset him needlessly by claiming the problems were his fault - when they were the ones making the mistakes! Until recently, the issue of stopping payments upon someone's death, was readily being tended to through the banks which deposited Social Security checks. Hence, no one at the bank could not understand why they were putting Dad through the ringer, unnecessarily. He's hard of hearing anyway, and has trouble making out conversation on the phone.

Did a Social Security employee decide to bypass the normal bank procedure for reasons I'd rather not have to think about? Were employees at Social Security taking advantage of the fact that elderly customers can't possibly know, if the procedure isn't done properly? It's little things like this that are really making people leery of government... minor aggravations which nonetheless add up over time. And the fact that it took five months to deal with a straightforward and simple matter, made me uneasy. Writ large, what is really going on? I was surprised, to see the Washington Post story also highlighted on the evening news.

Is Social Security the tip of the iceberg? Let's consider another chunk of that iceberg for a moment, which is the 73,954 pages of the tax code for 2013. Growth in this behemoth has slowed in the last couple of years - thank goodness for small favors. The other link which prompted today's post was a question which Timothy Taylor asked: Is the IRS Unraveling? Over time, already complicated tasks on the part of the IRS are becoming even more complex and difficult to carry out at the speed of the modern economy.

Part of what is so difficult is that we are fighting our post recessionary economic battles on two major fronts at the same time - macro and micro. Worse, so is the Fed - which makes little sense. That is, until we remember that there is no other organized dialogue to coordinate micro and supply side issues into what are still major macroeconomic concerns. This is why I have suggested domestic summits, to fill missing gaps for coordinated supply side efforts.

To be sure, a lot of voices need to be heard and considered, before a new consensus emerges for continued prosperity. Just as there are aspects of macroeconomics which look to what can be, microeconomic considerations can be future oriented as well. And both are needed, when governments falter.

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