Thursday, June 13, 2013

Achilles, the Tortoise, and the Deficit

Greek philosopher Zeno’s most famous paradox was an attempt to show that motion is a myth. In Zeno’s scenario, Achilles must race a tortoise and because Achilles is much faster he gives the tortoise a head start. Surely a demigod outraces a plodding reptile with four-inch legs, right?

Zeno of Elea
Zeno of Elea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“Not so fast, my friend,” said Zeno of Elea, who may have been an ancestor of ESPN commentator Lee Corso. After the contestants begin running, Achilles reaches the starting point of the tortoise, but the tortoise is also moving and is at a point farther down the track. Achilles will soon reach that second point, but his armored rival has again moved on. This scenario repeats an infinite number of times because there are an infinite number of points between the two.

The point (pun intended) Zeno was attempting to make was that while Achilles gains on the tortoise he can never catch him. The current – and more accurate – scenario is the reduction of the deficit can never reduce the debt.

The deficit is like the gap between Zeno and the tortoise; it doesn’t matter how much you reduce the deficit, income never catches spending and thus every year we are more in debt. When a politician brags on “reducing the deficit” - and I’m looking at you Barack Obama - remember they’re losing ground to a tortoise and at the end of the day our federal government is more in debt. 

While our friend Zeno was wrong about motion and his conclusions were, at best, just a little warped; he still provides us with a problem that tickles our synapses. Unfortunately the tortoise, who went on to greater fame when he out-dueled an overconfident hare, represents an elusive deficit that must be surpassed by a surplus. Currently, Achilles is eating the tortoise's dust and the American people are swallowing the poison pill of a federal government that simultaneously spends too much money and drives private businesses out of the marketplace.

The truth is that our spending is out of control and our revenue is stifled because our massive federal government out-competes the private sector, which must turn a profit, for resources, There is no plan to reduce the debt and restore private enterprise.

It's time for Achilles to take his spear and put an end to the tortoise of deficit spending. If we do not begin to produce annual surpluses, then we will never begin rolling back a debt that is smothering our economy.

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