Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Robbing Peter to pay Peter… later

Jerry Stratton, March 27, 2010

Such boots as these you seldom see

I’ve been moving my Lewis Carroll site over to the new web format, and I ran across Peter and Paul, a poem from his book Sylvie and Bruno. I’ve a great quote in my quote collection whose author I’ve long since lost:

The best book on programming for the layman is Alice in Wonderland; but that’s because it’s the best book on anything for the layman. — Alan Perlis (Epigrams on Programming)

Turns out, Lewis Carroll is the best writer for the layman on taxes, too!

When I first put this book on the web back in the nineties, I thought this an interesting nonsense poem. Looking at it again just after the government healthcare takeover, and it’s sounding a lot more realistic. We’re promised free healthcare, but the bill’s coming due first. And given the way government works in everything else, the chances of getting what we were promised is slim.

Now I see in the Washington Post that the Obama administration plans on “requiring lenders to temporarily slash or eliminate monthly mortgage payments”. Banks are already doing this if they think it makes sense; banks don’t want to take a total loss when they could take a partial loss instead. If they can already do it, they already are. But forcing them to even when they can’t afford it? That’s a recipe for another crash. And, of course, to the extent that this is a program that’s being funded it’s being funded with either or both of the TARP funds or the bailout funds. Neither of those funds have been paid for yet.

It’s coming from the Washington Post, so it could easily be wrong. But after the health care takeover, it isn’t hard to believe. The Obama administration doesn’t appear to have any concept of how economies work—that money has to come from somewhere. Just like forcing insurance companies to accept known liabilities will raise all of our insurance rates (or reduce all of our available health care) forcing banks to make financially deadly acts will make all of our finances less stable.

We can’t force “the banking industry” to pay for anything. The banking industry is everyone who has money in a bank or whose employer has money in a bank. If the “banking industry” has to take a loss on home loans, then all of our money is at greater risk. All of our savings will be worth less when banks can’t pay as much on them—or when inflation causes our actual money to be worth less. All of us who need loans tomorrow will be less likely to receive them, because banks who are underwater in current loans can’t afford to give new ones. Our employers will find it harder to stay in business if loans they would otherwise have received are now denied because of forced loan forgiveness or forbearance.

One of the many advantages of a federal system is that states do the work and the federal government prints the money. This means that for the states, money is real. To get more, they have to tax more or spend less. The problem, as we centralize all power at the federal level, is that to the federal government money is not real. They can tax more or print more; the fact that printing more makes all of our money worth less doesn’t matter to them.

Taxes are always inefficient. Doesn’t mean that they’re not a necessary inefficiency at times, but they’re always filtered through government programs that have to first pay for government workers, government offices, and government paperwork before the money can go to what it’s ostensibly for. Take a look at the health care takeover. It’s going to require over ten billion dollars just for the IRS. They’ll need to hire 17,000 new IRS agents. That money will come out of what used to go to our health care. Sometimes we’re lucky if we get any of it back at all.

“It will not be convenient.”

    • ‘Peter is poor,’ said noble Paul,
    • ‘And I have always been his friend:
    • And, though my means to give are small,
    • At least I can afford to lend.
    • How few, in this cold age of greed,
    • Do good, except on selfish grounds!
    • But I can feel for Peter’s need,
    • And I WILL LEND HIM FIFTY POUNDS!’
    • How great was Peter’s joy to find
    • His friend in such a genial vein!
    • How cheerfully the bond he signed,
    • To pay the money back again!
    • ‘We ca’n’t,’ said Paul, ‘be too precise:
    • ’Tis best to fix the very day:
    • So, by a learned friend’s advice,
    • I’ve made it Noon, the Fourth of May.’
    • But this is April! Peter said.
    • ‘The First of April, as I think.
    • Five little weeks will soon be fled:
    • One scarcely will have time to wink!
    • Give me a year to speculate—
    • To buy and sell—to drive a trade—’
    • Said Paul ‘I cannot change the date.
    • On May the Fourth it must be paid.’
    • ‘Well, well!’ said Peter, with a sigh.
    • ‘Hand me the cash, and I will go.
    • I’ll form a Joint-Stock Company,
    • And turn an honest pound or so.’
    • ‘I’m grieved,’ said Paul, ‘to seem unkind:
    • The money shalt of course be lent:
    • But, for a week or two, I find
    • It will not be convenient.’
    • So, week by week, poor Peter came
    • And turned in heaviness away;
    • For still the answer was the same,
    • ‘I cannot manage it to-day.’
    • And now the April showers were dry—
    • The five short weeks were nearly spent—
    • Yet still he got the old reply,
    • ‘It is not quite convenient!’
    • The Fourth arrived, and punctual Paul
    • Came, with his legal friend, at noon.
    • ‘I thought it best,’ said he, ‘to call:
    • One cannot settle things too soon.’
    • Poor Peter shuddered in despair:
    • His flowing locks he wildly tore:
    • And very soon his yellow hair
    • Was lying all about the floor.
    • The legal friend was standing by,
    • With sudden pity half unmanned:
    • The tear-drop trembled in his eye,
    • The signed agreement in his hand:
    • But when at length the legal soul
    • Resumed its customary force,
    • ‘The Law,’ he said, ‘we ca’n’t control:
    • Pay, or the Law must take its course!’
    • Said Paul ‘How bitterly I rue
    • That fatal morning when I called!
    • Consider, Peter, what you do!
    • You won’t be richer when you’re bald!
    • Think you, by rending curls away,
    • To make your difficulties less?
    • Forbear this violence, I pray:
    • You do but add to my distress!’
    • ‘Not willingly would I inflict,’
    • Said Peter, ‘on that noble heart
    • One needless pang. Yet why so strict?
    • Is this to act a friendly part?
    • However legal it may be
    • To pay what never has been lent,
    • This style of business seems to me
    • Extremely inconvenient!
    • ‘No Nobleness of soul have I,
    • Like some that in this Age are found!’
    • (Paul blushed in sheer humility,
    • And cast his eyes upon the ground)
    • ‘This debt will simply swallow all,
    • And make my life a life of woe!’
    • ‘Nay, nay, nay Peter!’ answered Paul.
    • ‘You must not rail on Fortune so!
    • ‘You have enough to eat and drink:
    • You are respected in the world:
    • And at the barber’s, as I think,
    • You often get your whiskers curled.
    • Though Nobleness you ca’n’t attain
    • To any very great extent—
    • The path of Honesty is plain,
    • However inconvenient!’
    • “Tis true,’ said Peter, ‘I’m alive:
    • I keep my station in the world:
    • Once in the week I just contrive
    • To get my whiskers oiled and curled.
    • But my assets are very low:
    • My little income’s overspent:
    • To trench on capital, you know,
    • Is always inconvenient!’
    • ‘But pay your debts!’ cried honest Paul.
    • ‘My gentle Peter, pay your debts!
    • What matter if it swallows all
    • That you describe as your “assets”?
    • Already you’re an hour behind:
    • Yet Generosity is best.
    • It pinches me—but never mind!
    • I WILL NOT CHARGE YOU INTEREST!’
    • ‘How good! How great!’ poor Peter cried.
    • ‘Yet I must sell my Sunday wig—
    • The scarf-pin that has been my pride—
    • My grand piano—and my pig!’
    • Full soon his property took wings:
    • And daily, as each treasure went,
    • He sighed to find the state of things
    • Grow less and less convenient.
    • Weeks grew to months, and months to years:
    • Peter was worn to skin and bone:
    • And once he even said, with tears,
    • ‘Remember, Paul, that promised Loan!’
    • Said Paul ‘I’ll lend you, when I can,
    • All the spare money I have got—
    • Ah, Peter, you’re a happy man!
    • Yours is an enviable lot!
    • ‘I’m getting stout, as you may see:
    • It is but seldom I am well:
    • I cannot feel my ancient glee
    • In listening to the dinner-bell:
    • But you, you gambol like a boy,
    • Your figure is so spare and light:
    • The dinner-bell’s a note of joy
    • To such a healthy appetite!’
    • Said Peter ‘I am well aware
    • Mine is a state of happiness:
    • And yet how gladly could I spare
    • Some of the comforts I possess!
    • What you call healthy appetite
    • I feel as Hunger’s savage tooth:
    • And, when no dinner is in sight,
    • The dinner-bell’s a sound of ruth!
    • ‘No scare-crow would accept this coat:
    • Such boots as these you seldom see.
    • Ah, Paul, a single five-pound-note
    • Would make another man of me!’
    • Said Paul ‘It fills me with surprise
    • To hear you talk in such a tone:
    • I fear you scarcely realise
    • The blessings that are all your own!
    • ‘You’re safe from being overfed:
    • You’re sweetly picturesque in rags:
    • You never know the aching head
    • That comes along with money-bags:
    • And you have time to cultivate
    • That best of qualities, Content—
    • For which you’ll find your present state
    • Remarkably convenient!’
    • Said Peter ‘Though I cannot sound
    • The depths of such a man as you,
    • Yet in your character I’ve found
    • An inconsistency or two.
    • You seem to have long years to spare
    • When there’s a promise to fulfil:
    • And yet how punctual you were
    • In calling with that little bill!’
    • ‘One can’t be too deliberate,’
    • Said Paul, ‘in parting with one’s pelf.
    • With bills, as you correctly state,
    • I’m punctuality itself:
    • A man may surely claim his dues:
    • But, when there’s money to be lent,
    • A man must be allowed to choose
    • Such times as are convenient!’
    • It chanced one day, as Peter sat
    • Gnawing a crust—his usual meal—
    • Paul bustled in to have a chat,
    • And grasped his hand with friendly zeal.
    • ‘I knew,’ said he, ‘your frugal ways:
    • So, that I might not wound your pride
    • By bringing strangers in to gaze,
    • I’ve left my legal friend outside!
    • ‘You well remember, I am sure,
    • When first your wealth began to go,
    • And people sneered at one so poor,
    • I never used my Peter so!
    • And when you’d lost your little all,
    • And found yourself a thing despised,
    • I need not ask you to recall
    • How tenderly I sympathised!
    • ‘Then the advice I’ve poured on you,
    • So full of wisdom and of wit:
    • All given gratis, though ’tis true
    • I might have fairly charged for it!
    • But I refrain from mentioning
    • Full many a deed I might relate
    • For boasting is a kind of thing
    • That I particularly hate.
    • ‘How vast the total sum appears
    • Of all the kindnesses I’ve done,
    • From Childhood’s half-forgotten years
    • Down to that Loan of April One!
    • That Fifty Pounds! You little guessed
    • How deep it drained my slender store:
    • But there’s a heart within this breast,
    • And I WILL LEND YOU FIFTY MORE!’
    • ‘Not so,’ was Peter’s mild reply,
    • His cheeks all wet with grateful tears ;
    • No man recalls, so well as I,
    • Your services in bygone years:
    • And this new offer, I admit,
    • Is very very kindly meant—
    • Still, to avail myself of it
    • Would not be quite convenient!’
  1. <- S-CHIP redux
  2. AP kills Reid? ->