A killjoy writes

Who knows what the bankruptcy point should be in public accounts? (I am trying to write a “lede” that will shake off all my readers.)

Certainly not oeconomists. (That first “o” was inserted out of euphoria.) The old-fashioned, “classic” ones, who wrote on this topic in ways that could be understood, and thus disagreed with, had the notion that when a person, human or corporate, reached the point where he could not pay his debts, he was bankrupt. There were laws to formalize this, so that customers could avoid being cheated, investors ditto, and creditors might grab what they could. The bankrupt entity would cease to have a good trading reputation. This is because it would be extinct.

Or perhaps we might backtrack to the term “insolvency.” This is a condition even poor people can participate in, without the ponderous intervention of the law. Poor person goes to corner store, tries to buy something on credit. Proprietor says, no. The police only come if the scene gets out of hand. (Or, used to come. The withdrawal of police protection from “little people” is a sign of our times.)

What interests me at this moment, and some others, is the bankruptcy of huge national states. Play with such words as “unfunded liabilities,” or even compare revenue and expenditures, and one is soon in wonderland. At what point do the “service costs” on public debt reach the point of no return? Why does nothing happen at that point? (It seems to still happen in private companies.)

All my adult life, in Canada and the other English-speaking countries, our political masters have been running up debt. This is true of all parties. There were laments about this, many years ago, from the rightwing parties, but at the moment they are, as it were, leading the charge. And while it is true that several countries still publish annual budgets, they don’t mean anything. In Natted States Merica, they may not even be published.

Now, gentle reader may be aware that my career in oeconomic journalism lapsed nearly forty years ago. But there was a time when I had the fondest clue. I used to look at the published figures, and try to make sense of them. It was a joyless existence. Still, I was able to provide myself with the illusion that there could be a responsible government. Just none that I examined.

Recently I wrote an Idlepost in defence of materialism. Granted, it was paradoxical. Today I would like to add a word in defence of money. We should ignore it at times, and I often do. The proud Aristotle says the magnificent man “does not count the cost.” Yet I’m in favour of having something real to ignore, rather than having to ignore things that are imaginary anyway.

Years ago I advocated a return to the gold standard, or some equivalent basket of commodities, for the same reason I still advocate the former (though distrust the latter). I don’t like money to be abstract. And my reason for this is moral rather than practical, or practical, but in a moral way. I should wish people and governments alike to endure consequences from going bankrupt, and therefore to avoid it more often.

In a similar way, I would like morality not to be abstract. I should want it to be fixed, like old-fashioned money, when Kings or Parliaments weren’t tampering with it.

Current Canadian example: when you block the railroad on purpose, you go to gaol. You pay, so to speak, and since you know that you will pay, you are less likely to do it. But now that all you fear is “negotiations,” it is like bankruptcy. It becomes a question of how big you are, and whom you can intimidate, with the help of such demonic powers as “the meejah.”