'Shutdown?' 'Default?' 'Borrowing?' We need new words

Part of the reason we don't communicate is that words have lost their meanings, so we don’t know what anybody is really talking about. Photo: Alan Cleaver / Flickr

LAS VEGAS, October 18, 2013 — After another month of drama, everything’s back to the status quo in Washington.


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The government has no spending limit; Wall Street loves the extra low-interest money that’s again available; federal employees enjoyed a couple weeks off with pay; foreign governments can again count on U.S. dollars coming in. Democrats have blamed Republicans; Republicans have blamed the Tea Party. It’s business as usual.

Part of the reason nothing is understood is that words have lost their meanings, so we don’t really know what anybody in the mainstream is really talking about. Plain-speakers, and clearly-written laws, are exceptions and are ignored or shunned.


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“Default” has a specific meaning, which is that debt payments cannot be made when they come due. Lately, “default” has been thoroughly mischaracterized, to mean that the government, without additional borrowing (see “borrowing”), will not be able to pay everything it has pledged, on time.

“Borrowing” is the concept of receiving money now that must be paid back in the future. Raising the nation’s borrowing limit, as has been practiced for decades and is accelerating now, doesn’t fit that definition. The government has no plan and no intention to ever repay “borrowed” money. In this latest crisis, the lie of “default” was that the government would have to borrow more money, just to pay the interest on money it had already borrowed.

“Credit rating,” related to “the full faith and credit of the United States” is another bluster. That an entity that borrows to stay in existence can hold any kind of positive credit rating is ludicrous. Interestingly, the Chinese have lowered the U.S. credit rating; American agencies are afraid to do so, since the last time — also the first time — when the U.S. sued the ratings agency for defamation.

“Economic cost” is a hilarious chimera. Recent estimates of the 16-day “government shutdown” say that “the economy lost $16 billion.” First, “the economy” defies definition. Second, not spending money does not mean that the money is “lost.” It simply means that money has not yet been spent. It may have been saved by taxpayers, or it may be waiting, available to buy something else. Look for how happily the media and big-government “economists” will cheer when all those furloughed federal employees get their retroactive pay, for having done nothing. What? You don’t expect to hear them cheering?

The “debt ceiling” is another now-meaningless term. Until October 17, it was a theoretical cap on how much the government could borrow. This is now officially lifted — eliminated? — until next year. Prior to this week, however, its meaning was lost to the fact that every time the government overspent, the “ceiling” was raised.

“A ‘clean’ continuing resolution” means that the president gets everything he wants, without any “dirty” restrictions on spending. He and the Senate turned down all sorts of rational and legal solutions, as they bargained for (and eventually got) a blank check for the next few months.

“Government shutdown” seems to be nothing but code for “make as much public pain as possible to save as little money as possible.” Essential services didn’t shut down. The Presidential Golf Course didn’t go fallow; the Congressional Gym stayed open. Congressional aides, Congress, the President — all got paid. The National Park Service was out in force, to keep people out of “their” land. Illegal immigrants had a sponsored march where veterans weren’t allowed to visit.

Yes, we need a whole lot of new words, to explain all that has been said in the last month.

As political words go, there are the classics, too: “reform,” in its modern use, means that the old favored groups are no longer as much in favor as new groups, or are thoroughly trained, so new groups will be getting the special treatment.

“Immigration reform” as is now used, means “a path to amnesty” for border-crossing criminals. Since the administration has decided to not enforce existing immigration laws and sues states that try, “immigration reform” really means “open borders,” for anyone. The second step, citizenship for these criminals, is part of the “reform” movement.

The phrase, “tax reform” is so over-used, it has become a joke. Every time there is “tax reform,” more special favors are doled out, and taxes increase on the rest of us.

“Health care” is a misnomer, being used interchangeably in political circles and the average press with “health insurance.” If care were the object, insurance would be unnecessary.

What insurance does is bet against the issuer losing money. That is why rational (private) insurance companies charge different rates to those of different risk groups; it’s why drivers with lousy records, or young, inexperienced drivers, get charged more for car insurance, and it’s why those with pre-existing health problems pay higher premia. The government’s “health care” tax is just another way to force people to fork over money. Remember: if “universal health care” were the program, there would be no need for health insurance.

“Affordable” has been linked to “health care,” with the same misdirection. Under the Affordable Health Care Act — ACA or “Obamacare” — low premia are coupled with high deductibles and high co-pays. So, those who must buy the lowest-priced, Bronze-level nationalized health insurance plan will face the most-unaffordable deductibles and co-pays. There are myriad other ways in which the ACA will get in the way of actual health care, but this column is too long, already. But don’t stop reading; your input is vital to the future of the nation.

“Leveling the playing field” means special deals are being made, to right past or imagined wrongs at the expense of those who had nothing to do with the problem. It also means that those with privilege continue to hold it. (See governmental playgrounds in “shutdown,” above).

“Diversity” means there is no tolerance for homogeneity. Wanting to assimilate, wanting to “be American,” is frowned upon by the average media and often by those groups who want to be in America without being part of American culture.

What are some of your favorite mis-definitions and suggestions?


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Tim Kern

Tim Kern taught economics for fifteen years, and discovered that understanding life is easy; it’s recognizing reality that takes practice. He holds a music degree, and later earned an MBA in finance from Northwestern University. He has lived across the US, and now makes his home in Anderson, Indiana.

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