Debt Ceiling Debate and the Trolley Problem

The debt ceiling debate boils down to the trolley problem which states:

A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are five people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you could flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch or do nothing?

The majority of the country and Congress is saying we have to “flip the switch”. The debate is over the specifics, which are so insignificant it’s ridiculous. Then there is a group of tea party members that don’t want to flip the switch. They want to stop the train, and if that’s not possible, let it run over the five people and learn a valuable lesson from that. This is an admirable position is some very distant abstract universe, but is just not in touch with reality and the consequences of real people’s lives in the short and long term.

To reiterate, the current plans proposed by Republicans and Democrats are virtually the same. The Republicans propose slightly harsher cuts, and make the avoidance of cutting harder, but really, there are two reasons no agreement has been reached:

  1. The Republicans (and to some degree, the Democrats) still think they can come out the political winner in this, while the other side comes out the political loser.
  2. Tea Party members are ideologically immovable (I’m trying to put it as nicely as possible here).

Meanwhile, the train is flying down the tracks…

* Illustration above is by Frank O’Connell (NY Times)

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