In describing the state of debate over issues, whether they are minor or significant, an expression that is often heard is that “reasonable minds may differ” with regard to the subject under discussion. This is generally accepted to mean that accepting and advocating one view or another on an issue, or even some midpoint, can be done by a rational thinker advocating in good faith. This is true even when, as in most cases, one view eventually prevails or one view is subsequently shown to be completely erroneous.
Examples of this abound, from the ancient world to the hot topics of current times. When Columbus sailed away, based on his belief that the world was round, many reasonable people (based on the prevailing belief at the time) supposed he would sail off the edge. History has shown that their view was incorrect, but at the time it could hardly have been described as an irrational opinion. When the American colonies decided to break from England, there was hardly unanimity on the subject here, and of course the British government was completely opposed. Given the risks inherent in any revolution, and the loyalty many colonists felt to their distant motherland, opposing views on the question were not unreasonable, and were strongly advocated, though in the end they did not win the day and the great American experiment in self-government is still working.
Today we are faced with many political, social and financial issues upon which reasonable, rational, sensible people may differ. That does not imply that all views are equally valid; some are right, some are wrong, some will prevail simply because they are more widely accepted and some issues will remain subject to debate without resolution forever, each side making coherent, reasonable arguments for its position.
Examples from our current time are many and varied. What of the existence, causes and remedies for climate change? When does life begin? At conception? At birth? At 40? What limitations, if any, can the government place on abortion? And to the extent that any can be placed, what should they be? Should killers be put to death? What restrictions can be imposed on the ownership and possession of weapons? And what should be? What is the proper role of government in the lives of individual citizens? How much control and regulation should the government impose on health care, finance, pharmaceuticals, housing, etc? How much does the constitution permit the government to do, and of that, how much should it do?
On all these questions and on hundreds or thousands more, reasonable, decent, logical people can make good faith arguments for their positions. Some arguments are better than others, some may prevail when they should lose and some may lose when they really ought to win. While there will always be some claims that are plain loony, the fact that one can propound an absurd rationale for a principle does not mean that all arguments in support of it are baseless. Reasonable minds can differ and still be regarded as reasonable. You may hold views that differ from mine on gun control, crime and punishment, speed limits, same-sex marriage and tax rates, and your arguments may be coherent and logical, as mine will be. That we disagree does not require that either of us be crazy or stupid. Though both are indeed possible, it is nonsensical to assume either to be true based simply on a good-faith difference of opinion on a matter in which reasonable people can make valid arguments on each side of a question.
That, however, must be contrasted with a situation as to which it is impossible for reasonable minds to differ. Take manned lunar landings, for example. We know it is possible for the United States to land people on the moon and have them walk around. It has been done. Some people believe we should do so again, and that the value of the scientific advances to be gained thereby justify the risk and the expense. Those are valid arguments. Others believe that, while there may be something to learn by doing that, the risk and the expense simply outweigh any potential benefit in sending people again to walk on the moon. That is also a valid point. Reasonable people may hold either view on that subject, or none at all.
But as to the question of whether we should send people to walk on the sun, reasonable minds cannot differ. There is no question of whether we should do that, because with the technology presently available, or ever likely to become available, such a thing is objectively impossible. Any discussion of whether we ought to do so is immediately and completely nullified by the fact that it is not possible. Any argument against the idea is unnecessary, any argument in favor of it is absolutely irrational and without foundation. No one could possibly make a valid point in support of attempting a solar landing and a sunwalk.
That brings me to the point of this discussion, which is our nation’s finances. Reasonable minds may differ about how tax money should be spent, and how much, and on what. How much to allocate to the military, how much to spend on entitlements, whether to give foreign aid, etc., are all subject to reasonable, principled debate by people on the many sides of each issue. Even how much of the people’s money should be taken by the government to funds its essential or discretionary, wise or foolish programs is subject to a reasonable difference of opinion, at least until the point is reached where the sheep cannot or will not be further sheared. But that is not the topic here, as we have plainly not reached that point. And, while everyone seems ready to agree that everyone should pay his or her “fair share,” disagreement on what that constitutes is a topic for reasoned debate as well.
What is beyond dispute is that the nation cannot continue to spend vastly more money than it takes in without destroying the country. No government can do it, be it national, state, city or irrigation district. No company or charitable enterprise can do it. No church can do it. No family, no scout troop, no PTA, no hot dog stand nor multinational conglomerate can do it. And no individual can do it. This is not because it is unwise, or immoral, or inappropriate or ill-advised. It is because, like landing and walking on the sun, it is objectively impossible. Reasonable minds cannot differ on the question of whether the government should spend vastly more than it takes in, year after year, because it simply cannot do so without ceasing to exist. The destruction of the nation’s credit, sure to follow such a course, would stop the practice. The failure of the government that does so would stop the practice. On that, reasonable minds cannot differ.
This is not intended to point the finger of blame exclusively at either party or any administration, state or federal. They have all done it. Nor is it intended to suggest that there are not plenty of clear voices of reason in government pointing out the insanity of the path being followed. Further, I do not even suggest that those who continue down that road are irrational or unreasonable in believing that they can do it, for I do not think that they believe it. They know that the impossible is impossible; they simply hope or suppose that when the nation reaches its financial Dunkirk, they will be out of the picture. But eventually there will be a real “fiscal cliff,” rather than a dramatic one invented for show which they held the immediate ability to solve. The day of reckoning will come.
Man may yet get into a spaceship and fly into the sun. But he is not going to land and he is not going to get out and walk around, and no amount of discussion will make it otherwise. The government may continue to spend, each year, sums vastly greater than it receives, but it cannot do so forever. Eventually it will fly into the sun.