Beyond Labels

A 360° Discussion of Foreign, National and Local Policy Issues

Scott Miller

No meeting this week; Taiwan next

As a reminder, the Blue Hill Public Library is closed tomorrow, February 20, in observance of Presidents Day. So the next Beyond Labels meeting will be on February 27.

At that meeting, we’ll follow up on our discussion about Russia and Ukraine to explore a question that arose in that context:

If the U.S. loses enthusiasm for supporting Ukraine in its war with Russia, what message does that send to China and Taiwan about the analogous situation between them?

  • How are the situations analogous? How not?
  • Should the U.S. be preparing to support Taiwan as an independent “country?” (That seems like a heavily loaded term in this context!)
  • How should China’s posture vis-a-vis Taiwan affect our trading relationship(s)?
  • If each of us were President (or Secretary of State), how would we be navigating these relationships?
  • Does the U.S. posture (so far) in Ukraine make the Taiwan situation more simple, or more complex?

Lots to consider.

Feb. 6: U.S. Federal Debt / Ceiling

With the U.S. debt ceiling back in the news, we’ll revisit this topic, together with the overall level of U.S. government debt ($31 trillion) and the deficit spending that increases the debt total.

Among the specific questions we may discuss are:

Debt Ceiling

  • What is it, and how does it work?
  • If increasing the debt ceiling as it is approached is as pro forma as Democrats claim, why do we even have one? What are the downsides to eliminating it?

Federal Debt

NY Times: How the U.S. Government Amassed $31 Trillion in Debt

  • How should we think about the amount of debt incurred (or guaranteed) by the federal government?
  • What’s the “right” level of debt? A common comparative metric is the debt-to-GDP ratio.
  • At an abstract level, which activities should be debt-financed, and which should be pay-as-you-go?
  • How should debt-like obligations, like pensions (or, in the case of the U.S. federal accounts, the bigger items like Social Security and Medicare), be factored into our maximum debt calculus? Here’s an opinion piece on the subject–whether you agree with his views or not, his basic math is (I believe) correct.

Federal Deficits

  • How should we think about federal budget deficits?
  • Do the rules for calculating the fiscal impacts of bills make sense? [See the opinion link to The Hill.)

Does Any of This Matter? (MMT)

There’s a school of thought out there that government debt doesn’t matter, since the government (or Fed) can print money. So it’s OK to run deficits and borrow as long as inflation is under control. This may be a bit esoteric for some, but Modern Monetary Theory generally comes up (at least in recent years) whenever someone expresses concern about our level of debt, so it’s worth understanding the basics. Suffice it to say, there seem to be a lot more MMT skeptics than proponents.

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