Thursday, September 1, 2011

220 pages in: But Vimes has seen the dragon

From Guard! Guard! by Terry Pratchett, HARPERTORCH, 1989.

The setting: The dragon is gone. The dragon slayer is to become King. The old dictator, the Patrician, has to go. This is what happens when a dragon is slain.

Vimes, chief of the Guard, is trying to get his regular meal at his regular lunch spot. But there are new menus now, because the Coronation is today.

Vimes pointed wearily at the top of the menu.

"What's this?" he said.

Harga peered at it. They were alone in the grease-walled cafe.

"It says 'Bye Royarl Appointmente,' Captain," he said proudly.

"What's it mean?"

Harga scratched his head with a ladle. "What it means is," he said, "if the king comes in here, he'll like it."

"Have you got anything that isn't too aristocratic for me to eat, then?" said Vimes sourly, and settled for a slice of plebeian fried bread and a proletarian steak cooked so rare you could still hear it bray. Vimes ate it at the counter.

A vague scraping noise disturbed his thoughts. "What're you doing?" he said.

Harga looked up guiltily from his work behind the counter.

"Nothing, Cap'n," he said. He tried to hide the evidence behind him when Vimes glared over the knife-chewed woodwork.

"Come on, Sham. You can show me."

Harga's beefy hands came reluctantly into view.

"I was only scraping the old fat out of the pan," he mumbled.

"I see. And how long have we known each other, Sham?" said Vimes, with terrible kindness.

"Years, Cap'n," said Harga. "You bin coming in here nearly every day, reg'lar. One of my best customers."

Vimes leaned over the counter until his nose was level with the squashy pink thing in the middle of Harga's face.

"And in all that time, have you ever changed the fat?" he demanded.

Harga tried to back away. "Well --"

"It's been like a friend to me, that old fat," said Vimes. "There's little black bits in there I've grown to know and love. It's a meal in itself. And you've cleaned out the coffee jug, haven't you. I can tell. This is love-in-a-canoe coffee if ever I tasted it. The other stuff had flavor."

"Well, I thought it was time --"


Harga let the pan fall from his pudgy fingers. "Well, I thought, if the king should happen to come in --"

"You're all mad!"

"But, Cap'n --"

Vimes's accusing finger buried itself up to the second joint in Harga's expensive vest.

"You don't even know the wretched fellow's name!" he shouted.

Harga rallied. "I do, Cap'n," he stuttered. "Course I do. Seen it on the decorations and everything. He's called Rex Vivat."

My take: Sometimes people get into the spirit of a thing, and run with it. And then because they're running with it, they think they must be running in the right direction.

My application: The Federal debt. Somebody started saying the economy went bad because of the Federal debt. And people got into the spirit of the thing and started running with it. Since, what, Reagan? Since 1980. Now 10, 20, 30, 31 years, and people have just been running a little faster, pushing a little harder, pushing to cut Federal spending, to cut Federal spending and balance the budget. With no success.

But not entirely no success. We did cut Federal spending as a share of GDP:

Graph #1: Federal Spending as a share of GDP, 1982-2001

And we did balance the budget:

Graph #2: Federal Surplus or Deficit, 1982-2001

We did cut spending and balance the budget. But economic performance, measured by capacity utilization, dropped off as the budget came into balance in 1998:

And in the decade after 2001, economic performance was worse than in the two decades before:

My view: Excessive government debt inhibits the growth of government. Inhibiting the growth of government is not such a bad thing.

Excessive private-sector debt inhibits growth in the private sector. Inhibiting private-sector growth is a killer.

Don't worry about government debt. It is private-sector debt we must reduce.

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