In Praise of Pronounced Unhappiness

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Published : November 05th, 2013
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Category : Opinions and Analysis

Today, I sing in glorious praise of unhappiness. Lest you think I lost my mind, first consider an Op-Ed in The Hill by life-long friend David Wise. He writes on Ending the Budget Wars.

For the second time in two years the U.S. has stepped back from the precipice of default.

In January, absent agreement to the contrary, a second sequestration will go in effect and on February 7, 2014 the nation would face yet another debt ceiling crisis.  The inability of the so-called supercommittee to reach a compromise when given a similar task in 2011 is enough reason for pessimism.

A long-term solution requires that no one come into the talks with preconditions and that everything be on the table. One sign that a successful accord has been reached is that no one walk away from the table completely happy. It is necessary. The time has come.
Common and Uncommon Ground

I am not in complete agreement with everything my life-long friend says. For starters, I disagree with his stance that a default would have been catastrophic.

That's a moot point however, and cannot be proven either way because the precipice was essentially an illusion. We may have been on the edge, but there was approximately a zero percent chance of falling off.

Those small differences aside, I wholeheartedly agree with the three key ideas in Wise's article.

  1. We need to fix the budget problem
  2. Everything should be on the table
  3. No one should walk away completely happy

Compromise Misery Needed

In regards to point number 3, Wise did not go far enough. I propose what's needed is for Democrats and Republicans alike to both walk away from the table, not only unhappy, but downright miserable. Here are my proposals for mutual misery.

Democrat Misery

In return for the above much needed Democrat misery, I would be willing to accept a modest increase in taxes. Of course that would make Republicans unhappy. But unhappiness is not what we need, we need outright misery as follows.

Republican Misery

  • Modest tax hikes
  • Huge decreases in military spending
  • All US troops on foreign soil come home within three years
  • Huge reductions in military spending

Some issues are non-partisan. For example food crop supports are promoted by farm-state Republicans and Democrats. Drug imports fall along similar lines. Thus we need to spread the misery.

Non-Partisan Misery

  • Elimination of all tariffs
  • Elimination of all crop supports
  • Drug imports from Canada and foreign countries

Food Stamp Misery

To get people off welfare and on to workfare, we need to reduce the incentives to collect welfare. This is what I suggested earlier.

  • Prohibit food stamp purchases of potato chips, snacks, soft drinks, candy, pizza, frozen foods of any kind except juice.
  • Limit food stamp users to generic (store brand vs. name brand) dried beans, rice, peanut butter, pasta, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, frozen (not bottled) juice, canned vegetables, canned soup, soda crackers, poultry, ground beef, bread, cheese, powdered milk, eggs, margarine, and general baking goods (flour, sugar, spices).
  • Calculate a healthy diet based on current prices, number in the family, ages of recipients, and base food stamps allotments on that diet.
  • In the interest of health and cleanliness, expand the food stamp program to include generic soap and laundry products.

While doing something positive for food stamp recipient's health, it would still ensure they were well-fed, yet hopefully miserable enough to seek a job.

I am open to still more misery, as much as it takes, on each side, to balance the budget and lay a foundation for growth.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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Mike Shedlock / Mish is a registered investment advisor representative for SitkaPacific Capital Management. He writes a global economics blog which has commentary 5-7 times a week. He also writes for the Daily Reckoning, Whiskey & Gunpowder, and has over 80 magazine and book cover credits. Visit
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