An Economic Dialogue Between Head and Heart

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with apologies to Thomas Jefferson

My Dear Uncle Sam,

Watching in dismay the bankruptcy of your ailing fisc, the debauchery of your expansive currency, the shame of your legislators delivering their offices into the pockets of private interests, the bloodying of your men-at-arms in foreign adventures most inconclusive, and the division of your once proud citizenry into loud and angry factions, what can I do but retreat in confusion and distress? Seated by my fireside, solitary & sad, the following dialogue took place between my Head & my Heart:

Head. Well, friend, this is one fine mess we've gotten ourselves into.

Heart. I am indeed the most wretched of all earthly beings! Healthcare for those unable to provide for themselves, energy in abundance with due respect for the frailties of mother earth, bustling factories and counting houses run by humble fiduciaries constrained to put need before greed, labor organized with guaranteed attractive employment to all that wish to work, peace on earth through open dialogue with those who call us Satan - was I not right to hope for these things? Did I not promise change to a deserving people? Oh, why did my noble intentions go awry?

Head. These are the eternal consequences of your failure to take lessons from reality. You confess your follies indeed; but still you hug & cherish them; & no reformation can be hoped, where there is no repentance. My friend, limits to power come not from lack of strength, meanness of spirit, nor shortage of goodness on the part of public servants. Rather, they come from the impossibility of managing a vast and complex web of commercial enterprises so multifarious that no czar, no central agency, no panel of experts however wise can make the ceaseless adjustments required to satisfy the myriad wants and needs of a free and spirited people.

Heart. Oh, my friend! This is no moment to upbraid my foibles. Spare me in this awful moment. At any other I will attend with patience to your admonitions. We face crisis upon crisis! Action is imperative & speed is of the essence!

Head. On the contrary I never found that the moment of triumph with you was the moment of attention to my admonitions. While suffering under your follies, you may perhaps be made sensible of them, but, the paroxysms over, you fancy it can never return. Harsh therefore as the medicine may be, it is my office to administer it.

Heart. Perhaps if I do more? They say my present failings come not from the course I have chosen but from want of sufficient resource. Cannot you hear the constant clamor from those who insist I do more, more, and more?

Head. From whence will come these infinite resources? Must they not be taken from the sustenance of the very people whose welfare you are pledged to promote, protect, and defend? Where is the profit in borrowing from tomorrow to consume today? What is the honor in robbing Peter to pay Paul?

Heart. Peter can afford it; Paul is in need, & do they not say that tomorrow may never come? From pulpit to podium, our moral leaders preach the necessity to sacrifice for the common good. Am I not the chosen agent of good? Surely the wants of the many transcend the profits of the few!

Head. These things may well be so, & if your good intentions sufficed to fire the people's hearths and bake their bread we would all be rich indeed. But man does not live by intentions alone. He lives by results, & despite your protestation, tomorrow will arrive before you know it. What will you have to show the people in return for the vast resources you consume? How will their children bear the burden of the debts you continue to amass? What will you say when the paltry issue of your hasty actions belies your noble intentions & the day of reckoning is at hand?

Heart. It's not my fault! I have enemies pledged to see me fail! I reach out to them most tirelessly; I include them in countless deliberations; I preach against the evil of faction, yet they do not heed my words. Their leaders reject my wisdom. Their people scorn my experts. The rabble dares berate my representatives. No, the fault cannot lie with me. It is my enemies, not I, who will pay the price. Do you not know that Hope springs eternal and I am its anointed standard bearer! Begone and plague me no more with doleful sophistry. I have no further need of your counsel.

I thought this a fitting proposition whereon to rest the issue of the dialogue. So I put an end to it by calling for my night-cap. Methinks I hear you wish to heaven I had called a little sooner, & so spared you the ennui of such a sermon. I leave you with the sincere affection & esteem with which I have the honour to be, my dear Uncle, your most obedient humble servant.

Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and a Boston-based venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here.  If you would like to have his weekly columns delivered to you by e-mail, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza.

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