Are We Members of the “27” Club?

By | August 28, 2017 | 0 Comments


Wall art in Tel Aviv

Do you recall beautiful, talented, wealthy Amy Winehouse? Unless you are a music fan, you may not remember that she was found dead at age 27, joining such music personalities as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Jim Morrison − all members of the “27” Club. For years, the multiple award-winning singer and songwriter had been in and out of rehab for alcohol and drug abuse. The night before her death, reportedly she bought cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, and ketamine. Prophetically, her last album was titled “Back to Black.”

Amy’s grieving mother remarked, “It was just a matter of time.”

Books, articles, and films have attempted to explain why talented, successful people in the music business so often descend into a death spiral of alcohol and drugs. One can speculate that their fans almost expect it. One can moralize that the music business and the drug business are intimately related. This is sad, but perhaps understandable.

But what is difficult to understand is how supposedly sober, dull bankers can become so involved with irresponsible, careerist politicians that a similar death spiral results − not of alcohol and drugs, but of runaway spending, oppressive taxation, and unsustainable debt.

Music people are surrounded by adoring fans, flashing strobes, and blaring sounds. Alcohol and drugs are everywhere. The wonder is not that so many succumb, but that so many do not, and go on to live relatively normal lives. Rather than an insult to music people, this is an insult to bankers and politicians. In boring boardrooms and yawn-inducing political meetings, they manage to act as recklessly as do musicians in the much more exciting surroundings of rock concerts.

These people were trained in political science, business, and economics ‒ interesting but hardly thrilling courses of study. They had no outlet for their creativity in art, music, or literature, so they channeled their creativity into areas where it was inappropriate, even destructive.

Why are we producing so few great novels, great paintings, or great musical compositions? Is it because too many creative people are going into business, banking, and politics? Do they misuse their creativity by producing fictional quarterly reports, imaginary banking manipulations, and illusory political moves? Will the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction go to a financial statement? Surely the Social Security “Trust Fund” deserves consideration. You would have to go to science fiction to find something that implausible and made-up. (Scotty, beam me up, there are no honest life-forms here.)

And these people pervert the English language and invent deceptive terminology to conceal their shenanigans. We now call wasteful government spending “investment.” We now call raising taxes “spending cuts” or “reducing tax expenditures.” We now call eliminating the deductions for charitable contributions or home-mortgage payments “broadening the base.” George Orwell, move over. Our government officials put Big Brother and Newspeak to shame. Or rather, they put all of us to shame − for tolerating their misbehavior.

How can legitimate politicians reach agreements with people who use language as an octopus uses ink − to conceal and deceive? When they are with colleagues, do they speak frankly, and laugh at us ignorant fools? At least this way, they can communicate among themselves. Or have they become so addicted to phony terminology that it affects their thinking, and they actually believe what they say? In that case, there is little hope of a real compromise.

If I say “spending cuts” and mean spending cuts, but they say “spending cuts” and mean tax hikes, how can we communicate, much less reach agreement?

In the film “Patton,” the general delivers a bombastic address to his troops. His aide remarks, “General, sometimes the men don’t know when you’re acting.” Patton replies, “It’s not important for them to know − it’s only important for me to know.” Patton was a superb commander who recognized the potentially fatal danger of deceiving himself. Do you believe that our current politicians ‒ mainly Democrat but also Republican ‒ recognize this danger? Or are they so caught up in their fantasy world of “tax, spend, borrow, elect” that they no longer are able recognize reality? I fear that the latter is true.

But what’s really odd is that supposedly intelligent pundits repeatedly claimed that our credit rating might be reduced not because we are borrowing too much, but because of the delay in raising the borrowing limit. This is like claiming that you can improve your credit rating not by paying down your debts, but by borrowing even more. If this absurd idea wouldn’t work in personal life, why would it work in national life? A person, or a nation, addicted to ever-increasing borrowing will eventually discover that no one is willing to loan another dollar to such a deadbeat.

The pundits claim that the problem is not our addiction to spending borrowed money, but our current difficulty in borrowing even more. This is like claiming that a drug addict’s problem is not the addiction, but the difficulty in finding a reliable supplier.

Members of the “27” Club were unable, or unwilling, to break their addiction to alcohol and drugs. Eventually it killed them. They died far too soon. They could not escape from the drug dealers, who promised instant gratification but delivered slow death. If we are unable, or unwilling, to break our addiction to profligate spending and ballooning debt, our nation will die far too soon. We must escape from the political charlatans, who promise instant gratification but deliver slow bankruptcy − both economic and moral.

Tax reform? Spending cuts? Moving, ever so slowly, toward a balanced budget? Even voting for an actual budget at all? Is this too much to hope for? If an individual buys as much as he can on credit, mortgages his house, and maxes out his credit cards, we refer him to a credit counselor in the hope he can avoid bankruptcy. But if our nation does the same, where do we go for help? Do we even know we need help?

The death of any human being is tragic. The death of a vibrant, productive, previously healthy human being is doubly tragic. The death of a vibrant, productive, previously healthy nation would be indescribably tragic. It would also be unforgivable, because it is entirely preventable. But if we don’t change our ways, it’s just a matter of time.

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy collapses over loose fiscal policy…always followed by a dictatorship.
‒ Attributed to Sir Alexander Fraser Tytler, University of Edinburgh (1714-1778); abbreviated version attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville; actual quote from Elmer T. Peterson (1951).

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