I am by no means an economist, but I do like to read things economists have written if only to sound vaguely aware of current events at parties.  Today I have read about this thing called a “fiscal cliff,” which, to an untrained eye, looks a lot like regular life, the main difference being that a bunch of people want to gut government services because those services cost money.  One might think that this stated desire on behalf of a portion of the population—that portion which is least dependent on the services in question—is itself regular life, and has been since about 1976.  But things have changed.  Those people have taken the word “cliff” and put it together with the word “fiscal”.  If we do not gut government services, they will be very upset, so much so that they may not allow the government to operate.  When that happens the economy will get messed up and people will be poorer.  But if we do gut the government services, the economy will also get messed up and people will be poorer.  And that is a fiscal cliff.

Paul Krugman is, by all possible definitions, an economist.  He writes intelligently on the subject:

What the Dr. Evil types think, and want you to think, is that the big current deficit is a sign that our fiscal position is completely unsustainable. Sometimes they argue that it means that a debt crisis is just around the corner, although they’ve been predicting that for years and it keeps not happening. (U.S. borrowing costs are near historic lows.) But more often they use the deficit to argue that we can’t afford to maintain programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. So it’s important to understand that this is completely wrong.

Now, America does have a long-run budget problem, thanks to our aging population and the rising cost of health care. However, the current deficit has nothing to do with that problem, and says nothing at all about the sustainability of our social insurance programs. Instead, it mainly reflects the depressed state of the economy — a depression that would be made even worse by attempts to shrink the deficit rapidly.

It sounds like this thing we’re calling a “cliff” is more like a flat terrain that has been artificially raised a few feet and filled in with cheap materials.  When I open up my garage I think I’ll slip right down it and head to my Starbucks of choice.

The Economist probably employs some economists to provide its content.  It has created a lovely video of the whole affair.  My main takeaway:  some people in congress don’t want to pay for things we’ve been paying for since the 1930s and which made this country, as a whole, very rich.  They’re assholes.  They’re trying to trick people into gutting the New Deal by putting two scary words together and pretending it’s a crisis.  But we’ve all had so many pretend crises lately, I think we’d rather all have Christmas.

Incidentally, The Economist is also running a story about awesome cardboard bicycles.