Zen and the Art of Chopping Wood

Sometimes, when you’re trying to split firewood, you get a big old log of wood that’s just so big that your axe gets stuck in it.  Now, when this happens, you could try to work the axe back out and then take another swing.  This takes a lot of effort, because sometimes the axe is stuck in there pretty good and it just doesn’t want to budge.

But there is an alternative.  You can turn the axe over, while it’s still stuck in the log, so that the log is on top.  You lift it up, and swing it down on the blunt side of the axe head.  When you do this, gravity gives you an assist, and the momentum of the swing makes the log keep moving after your axe hits the ground, with the result that the log basically splits itself as a result of its own weight.  That’s right, the log is so heavy that it splits itself on your axe.

Congress should jump off the “fiscal cliff.”

See, the Congressional Republicans don’t seem to realize that Obama won the election.  The budget they’re pushing now is just a barely-warmed-up version of that same stale proposal that the Romney/Ryan ticket was touting.  It should be clear that the American people rejected that plan.  We want progressive taxation, where the top marginal rate is higher than the rate paid by low- and middle-income earners.

Anyone who has ever faced a household debt knows that you can’t pay the debt off just by spending less.  If you could pay off your debts just by cutting spending, then you probably wouldn’t have gotten into debt in the first place.  No, at some point, if you want to pay off your debts and still maintain a reasonable standard of living, you have to increase your income.

This is true for the government as well.  The Bush administration got us into debt by simultaneously increasing spending and decreasing revenue.  This wrecked the economy and locked us into two wars, with the result that Obama really had no choice other than to stay the course during his first term.

Now, the situation has changed.  The Iraq war is over, and Afghanistan is winding down.  Obama won re-election, in a repudiation of Tea Party philosophies.  Yet Congressional Republicans insist that the only acceptable path to fixing the budget is through closing loopholes.

There are two problems with raising revenue by closing loopholes.  One is, this causes tax rates to rise much more rapidly for middle- and lower-class families than for the wealthy, effectively shifting the tax burden off of the wealthy even more, and onto the shoulders of the poor and the working class who already can’t afford it.  The other problem is, it doesn’t actually raise enough revenue to solve the problem.  A number of scholars, pundits, economists and analysts all came to this same conclusion when discussing the Romney/Ryan tax plan during election season.  Since the fundamental laws of mathematics have not changed in the last month, there’s no reason to believe that the Republican tax plan would work.

Yet the Republicans control the House of Representatives (thanks to gerrymandering by state legislatures) and they are hell-bent on pursuing the exact same sort of partisan gridlock that we’ve seen out of Washington for the last two years.

Let them have it.

Obama should not compromise in an effort to avert the “fiscal cliff.”  Instead, Obama should think about the zen of chopping wood.

Dear Mr. President: Is your axe stuck?  Don’t strain yourself trying to pull it out of the log.  Just turn the log over, and let it split itself on your axe under the force of its own weight.

The Paul Ryan budget is the log.  The increase in the top marginal rate is the axe.  You could just keep whacking away, but it’s more trouble than it’s worth.  Just turn it over, and allow the House budget plan to split apart under its own weight.

Let Congress jump off a cliff: a fiscal cliff.  Allow John Boehner’s arguments to collapse under their own weight.

Then when it comes time to negotiate a new budget in 2013, Mr. President, you can take credit for cutting taxes.

[Update:  I have now addressed my disappointment that the President rejected my advice in a new post.]

About Jesse S. Smith

I’m just a regular guy who happens to have had a lot of interesting experiences. I believe in self-improvement, both for the individual and for society as a whole. I’m subject to strong opinions, but I’m trying to learn to be less confrontational about the way I present them.

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One Response to Zen and the Art of Chopping Wood

    Thomas Jefferson says:

    I sure hope the President won’t compromise this time around.