Markets beware, the debt ceiling isn’t falling and neither are we

(David Smith-Soto/

(David Smith-Soto/

(Another in a series of dearstudents columns by Borderzine executive editor David Smith-Soto)

Granted, the grocery store where I buy my nonfat Bulgarian yogurt is not your neighborhood Albertson’s, but I was surprised when I found my access to the two-ounce jar of sliced pimentos blocked by a little old lady who had cornered the store manager with her concerns over the downgrading of the credit rating of the United States of America.

(David Smith-Soto/

(David Smith-Soto/

The diced pimentos were reachable, but I was ordered to buy sliced pimentos and my own rating would be severely downgraded if I came home with those tantalizingly reachable diced ones.

“It’s those Tea Party people,” she informed the manager, “They’re responsible for the divided government that landed us in this mess.” Well, she could have been quoting Standard and Poor’s, the bond-rating agency that had just kicked Uncle Sam down one notch from AAA to AA+, for the first time in recorded history.

“Our nest egg…” she lamented. The manager gripped his clipboard and made a shaky attempt to check-off one of the little boxes in a long list. He could have been one of those Tea Party people. “The markets…” She wasn’t talking about the price of Brussels sprouts.

She sounded a lot like the head of S&P’s rating division who I had seen on CNN unsmilingly citing the gridlock in the U.S. Congress last week that led to a hair-raising eleventh hour lifting of the U.S. debt ceiling, something absolutely necessary for Americans to pay for 10 years of war and to keep Chinese factory workers working.

Yes, it was the tail wagging the dog, she went on. And she was right. She could have been sitting at the table when the U.S. Constitution was written a couple of hundred years ago. As I searched for alternatives to the sliced pimentos I could imagine wicked smiles on the visages of Jefferson, Franklin and Washington. This is exactly what they wanted.

It’s called, hmmm, democracy.

Yes, once before, about the same time that Standard and Poor’s was born, intransigence led to cries of secession and then a terrible civil war. But on the whole, the founding fathers distrusted absolute power more than they loved credit ratings. Having just overthrown the British king and fended off the army and navy that would vanquish Napoleon, they were in no mood for power trips. So they handed down this present thing in Washington some call broken government. Some blame the right-wingers others the left. The truth is that Washington is working exactly as they wanted it to. They didn’t trust us, so they made it hard.

Why can’t Steve Jobs run things? Is there anything more perfect than the iPhone? Remember Benito Mussolini (in Italy, dear students, the father of 20th century fascism, Hitler’s sidekick,) who made the trains run on time, but at certain cost. Trade your freedom to make Congress run smoothly? Our founding fathers wanted the tracks twisted and torn en route to compromise.

It’s called democracy.

“Find everything OK?,” the cashier asked her. Yes, she was ahead of me again. She must have heard are you OK?, because she went on, “Yes, except for that debt-ceiling mess in Washington.”

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