Thursday, November 25, 2010

Balancing Act

DI: Okay, you emailed me this, but I’ll let you introduce it however you want. So go nuts.

B: Some people have called me a deficit hawk, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think my business experience has taught me that the books need to be balanced, but I’m also schooled enough in economics to know that governments don’t operate the way a business does, they actually operate more like an individual. What I mean by that is that most people go through phases in their spending, where they’ll spend more than they make and go into debt, or make more than they spend and squirrel some of it away. The only real difference is that when our government takes in more than it spends there’s this odd urge to give the money back to the taxpayers. If we had already paid down the debt, and it looked like we could safely reduce revenues to a lower level commensurate with spending, that makes sense, but giving back money when we still have this large debt would be like Visa handing you back your monthly payment and saying, “no, you spend it on something else- we’ll just keep charging the interest.”

But the whole reason I even mention any of this is I got a chance to balance the budget. No, the Obama administration wasn’t offering me a job; the New York Times put together a little game that illustrates the deficit. You have to make budget decisions, and it explains to you the impacts of the cuts you’re making. And it’s really kind of agonizing, some of the decisions you end up making, because there are all kinds of things that in a perfect world we wouldn’t be looking at cutting, but that in the context of trying to balance the budget may be necessary. I’m probably underselling how amazing this actually is, but I would entreat everyone to give it a try:

Though I should emphasize that tightening our belts, right this second, is probably a bad idea. Our economy is actually recovering right now, but the impact of government cuts that have already taken place have made it almost a zero sum game. Further cuts may very well cripple an economy that’s still hobbling.

DI: Very nice. And it is enlightening- and a little depressing, too. But I have journalistic things. And I really do hate to ask- because I hate to give Glenn Beck’s existence any acknowledgement whatsoever- but just a few weeks ago you distanced yourself from George Soros, and Beck seems to have taken an eager swipe at the man.

B: Yeah. Chills my blood to be even in the same neighborhood as Beck, but I’ll try and explain myself. Geoge, and I think I’ve known him long enough to call him George, is a great guy. He’s a fighter, going back decades. He’s spent billions of dollars funding anti-Communist efforts in the Soviet bloc, in large part because his family survived first the Nazis and then the Russians. He has a visceral dislike of authoritarian governments, and unlike some he really puts his money where his passion is. And I have a lot of respect for George, I really do. But he’s been associated with liberal causes for a long time and for that he gets written off, as if he does these things without deep and contemplative thought. He doesn’t- and I was saying I don’t want to be written off as a knee-jerk liberal, either.

I believe in a strong government that does certain things well for its citizens, and that if we’re going to have that government we’ll have to pay for it through taxes. Some people want a weaker government, or smaller, if you prefer that terminology- and that’s a possibility, too. The size and mission of the government is something we have to compromise on, because we can’t all get what we want, obviously. I think I’m realistic in that, not ideological. And I don’t want people to write me off because I know we need to have those conversations, in order to forge those compromises; otherwise we all suffer.

DI: I particularly liked the New Yorker takedown of Beck’s comments- the New Yorker being appropriate, since it was quotes from an old New Yorker piece that Beck repeatedly misrepresented- not that I regularly read the New Yorker, as I’m no effete East Coast liberal.

B: Careful- I am an effete East Coast liberal.

DI: Who would have given Bruce Lee a run for his money in his day.

B: No- not even close. Lady Shiva might have, on one of her better days. But what people forget about Bruce Lee is the man spent hours every day training. I’m in excellent shape, but I spent as much or more of my time on studies, on running my companies, on so many other things. Bruce Lee would have beat the holy hell out of me- though I think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar might be in my wheelhouse.

DI: So you’ve fought freakishly tall and long-limbed martial artists?

B: On occasion. I’d cheat, mind you. A fair fight with someone like that is just asking to get a size 16 foot in the eye.

DI: Oh my God- I’m going to Google that later, but did you just pull the man’s shoe size out of thin air?

B: I have a mind for details- not quite a photographic memory, but about 93% recall.

DI: Hmm. Damnit. I meant to steer the conversation away from politics; I know that’s a lot of where your mind is, these days- I think because you’ve had to step back from the chief way you tried to impact the world, and now you’re groping for new ways to be useful.

But I’m as much if not more interested in you and your past exploits. I think it’s a balancing act, there- and so far I’ve been failing. Next week, though, we’ll be back and hopefully better at it.

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