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Jeremiah and the Debt Crisis

Originally Posted on the Huffington Post

The Wikipedia paragraphs on the prophet Jeremiah fit my recollection of his warnings. They are relevant today as Tea Party radicals contemplate forcing the United States to default on its debt. Jeremiah, Wikipedia says, “rejected the idea (widespread among the Hebrews and their kings) that Jerusalem and the Temple had an almost magical inviolability.” Jeremiah knew that they were not inviolable — that they could be destroyed — and therefore recommended accommodation with the Babylonians. He was derided, but because of his people’s obduracy the City and the Temple were leveled and the Hebrews dispersed.

Today, Tea Party Republicans believe our country has an “almost magical inviolability” so they see no reason to compromise to save it. Like the ancient Hebrews, they do not believe that this country can be brought down and its great promise destroyed. Germany, the most advanced country in Europe in 1914, attacked Russian and France because its military leaders believed it had to strike before a fast-modernizing Russia became too powerful to overcome. Three years and millions of deaths later, German admirals in early 1917 believed that a U-boat campaign that they knew would bring the U.S. into the war against them would defeat France and England before U.S. power could be brought to bear. Germany was defeated and went from being the most respected country in the World in 1914 to pariah state in 1918, and there was worse to come.

South Carolina hot-heads by the same token started the Civil War in 1861 to forestall a distant threat to the “peculiar institution” that made its planter class and their retainers wealthy. Surely many in South Carolina today — Confederate Ball to the contrary — recognize that more caution and pragmatism of the kind recommended by Jeremiah would have been better policy.

Tea Party hot-heads are ready to take great risks to make this country conform to their vision. They are willing to do this because they believe America, like Jerusalem and the Temple, has a “magical inviolability” that will allow it to easily overcome a collapse of its credit and its reputation. Jeremiah through the centuries warns against this kind of thinking. He was a pragmatist, an empiricist, and therefore a moderate who understood the risks his country was facing. He counseled his people to be cautious but they would not listen. It was over 2,500 years before his country recovered.

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