By the Numbers

So, I was playing around with a simulator that had the National Budget in it the other day and solved the budget and created a surplus of 612 million dollars in 15 minutes without getting rid of the military or cutting too much of anything.

I really recommend that you go try it out for your self at:
http://www.nathannewman.org/nbs/longbudget06.html

Granted this is the 2006 budget but it will give you an idea of what is involved in the decision-making. The New York Times recently offered a more simple and flashy simulator but that is decent too.

The thing is, these simulators are not just excel spreadsheets that calculate dollar amounts, they have algorithms that take into consideration how long it would take to implement cuts and what might happen if a drastic cut is made. For instance, cutting the amount of people in the armed services increases spending in VA healthcare and unemployment.

I found out that several states offered similar simulators last year with their actual budgets for 2010-11 programmed in that included their constitutions. In other words, you couldn’t get rid of a tax break for the wealthy without a constitutional amendment (which would require a vote). Unfortunately, Rhode Island was not one of these states. Utah, Minnesota and Massachusetts all used these programs to simultaneously teach people about the realities of the budget and to also gain new ideas about how to budget plus get their fingers on the pulse of what their constituents might be willing to vote for in amendments.

As I roamed around I discovered bunches of sites dedicated to trying to explain the budget, deficit and what it takes to work on either.

In a nutshell, it boils down to values, believe it or not. Each budget is driven by a core set of values that determines what is funded and what is not. The values, on National and State levels, as you go back through several decades of budgets, haven’t really changed much. The problem that arises is that within one budget there exists a conflicting set of values that rise and fall in urgency according to political trends. Defense values are placed against Healthcare values, big business against community initiatives.

In the mix of it all were questions about allocation that really revolved around the acceptance of changed values and realities about life. We live much longer then before, should the Social Security and Retirement age be raised? We know that working 4-10 hour days is both more efficient and economical in energy spending, should we move to reflect that in our administration? Our schools are failing, do they need more regulation and money to get back on track or do they need to be cut free from standardization?

What about taxes on business and upper incomes? Tax it too much and there is no incentive to make a profit. Tax it too little and the burden is spread out on people who cannot afford it. Should we honor chosen risk and guarantee money invested in loans or stocks or should we require that people accept the risk for what it is? If we require that they accept risk, is a mortgage considered the same risk?

What about energy? Would it be fair to additionally tax people by the square footage of the buildings/houses they occupy? That would be in addition to their utility bills, which would generate a lot of income by taxing business and upper income persons, but would also drive lower income people into the poor house.

How willing are we to further create a class divide by creating punitive taxes on the wealthy? How willing are we to further a class divide by retaining punitive taxes on the poor.

Economic reform is wedded to social reform. You cannot create a new economy without a new set of values. You cannot change values without society being in agreement with the changes.

Legislation does not change values. It sets up punitive “after-the-fact” measures which means one does not need to evolve in one’s beliefs, one simply avoids being caught.

Changing society means starting with the arts, the sense of community, the sense of belonging that is needed to create a sympathy towards others that is rooted in a common identity. It starts with identifying common needs and meeting them on a communal level. And I am not talking about Maslow and that ridiculous pyramid. I am talking about what does each person, from any given class level in any given area need to excel. This commonality supersedes differences of opinion and belief. It is the unifying key.

Surprisingly, as I continue to look at these questions (along with others I have formed a sort of loose group with) the answers begin away from government and legislation. Face it, fixing the government et al has become a separate problem from resolving society’s needs. The two are barely related and yet intertwined. The twining, however, is one sided. The community has become frozen and reliant on the government, it has ceased to believe in itself. The government has become self-sustaining. Our two party system has essentially created oligarchies of political families that run things. We live in a strange hybrid system of a Republic of Oligarchy; in fact, it is almost like a phantom nation. The self-sustaining nature of the government has made it virtually incapable of change driven from within its own system because its existence has become codified and overly valued.

Communities have come to define their potential for change only as it relates to the approval and implementation of the oligarchy. Any student of history will tell you that oligarchies are not inclined to change.

This leads me back to the arts again. The arts – music, writing, media – have become solely focused on division over the past decade or so. The further you could define your genre, eliminate people who were not 100% into whatever you were doing, the more “successful” you would be. The drive to reach, to grow, to experiment was replaced by the drive to provide a comfortable living through one’s creation. The way we have learned to be economically successful is by narrowing our genre and audience. The audience, in turn, is less inclined to challenge themselves with exposure to something new or different.

When the arts cease to be about exploration, society stagnates because the one thing that has not changed since the time when we all sat around fires outside of caves is that the artist plays the role of the shaman and educates, illuminates and challenges the community.

Side note: complaining is not challenging. Constantly reiterating what is wrong while offering no believable alternative is not radical protestation, it is a hammer of despair that beats people into inaction. Constantly amplifying escapism (via through fantasy or “empowerment”) broadcasts despair. Why should anyone be moved to question, consider or do anything if they have a pot from which to draw a constant stream of “good enough” statements? Even if they can recognize that the statements are unrealistic, panaceas are always preferred to the pain of reality.

I digress, but not by too many degrees.

Change starts with community. Community starts with its smallest definition and then expands outward, it is always placing itself in relation to the larger population to define its belonging. The arts are the medium for illumination and education; education is where people learn how to discuss what the arts have brought into the light. Government is what should arise from this process.

So let’s start, shall we? What does your primary community need to excel (be practical, make it tangible items like oh say…they need bus schedules, better neighborhood snow removal) and spin out, look at the next level of community – do they need that too? If they had it, what would change? It’s like those nesting dolls, each one is a part of a larger container but they all look the same. Pick things to work on that cross community and neighborhood lines and are a part of the larger community of your city and town. Once you have a list, be creative, what can be done immediately and for free now. Have a party, make it a game and you will be surprised at the solutions that come up.

c.2011 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.

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About cassandratribe

"There are few artists that can do what Cassandra Tribe does. Whether with her poetry, her videos or her blog, Cassandra examines the truths that most of us can never come close to realizing and shows it for what it is, both beautiful and frightening at the same time. She exposes our inner-most workings like the cross-section of a powerful but flawed machine, our gears and springs, nuts and bolts removed and laid out before us. She is a true artist. Her new video, Requiem for a God, is the latest example of Cassandra's willingness to tear open and examine the very things that make us human. Shooting the film entirely by herself, she also eliminates all the little excuses we come up with to keep us from ourselves and our truth. You see, even when she's not trying to be, Cassandra Tribe is a beacon of truth and humanity in this darkest of worlds." (Michael E. Quigg, The Culture Network, June 2009)
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