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When Kicking the Can down the Road,
Watch For the Sign
FORCING MOMENT AHEAD
Jay B Gaskill
We’ve all heard the popular bromide – kicking the can down the road. It has been the popular pastime of elected and unelected officials for several decades. Now we are beginning to hear about “forcing moments”.
In the technical sense, a “forcing moment” describes an event in the life of a dynamic system that is running with some inherent imbalance (or disequilibrium) when some external push causes the system to “tip over” into a different, more stable state. Think of an airplane’s defiance of gravity as it climbs at takeoff. There is a fragile dynamic equilibrium between lift, angle of climb and forward motion that cannot be maintained forever without stalling. As the stall point gets closer and closer, any minor change in airflow or the pilot’s ascent angle can be the “forcing point” that results in a stall...or a prudent leveling off for the long haul.
Of course, the ultimate stability of any aircraft is reached on the ground – ideally in one piece. Economies, like airplanes, defy gravity only by a safe landing, not by flying forever.
Used a bit more loosely, the notion of a “forcing moment” describes those all-too-familiar times when some external event compels us to address a belated, long deferred adaptation to a growing problem. In other worlds a forcing moment marks the place where kicking the can down the road no longer works.
Think of chronically falling behind in rent – a major forcing moment occurs when the landlord locks you out, and the deferred adaptation is when you move into cheaper digs. In this usage, a forcing moment is an event or situation that forces a long deferred decision.
The notion of economic forcing has been introduced in an important Wall Street Journal article (it ran February 22) in connection with the national debt. Here is the pull quote.
“The Treasury would face a difficult question after the government reaches the debt limit and continues to pay as first priority the interest on debts coming due. The situation, in essence, would be this:
“The Treasury does not have enough money to pay out all of the appropriations made;
Congress has, by law, said that the Treasury must carry out all appropriations laws and cannot refuse to carry out a portion of them (an action called "impoundment" that was prohibited years ago by law); and
“Congress has, by law (the debt limit statute), said that the Treasury cannot borrow to supplement income tax receipts to pay the government's bills.
“In short, the Treasury would not have enough money to go around. Although the law generally does not appear to tell the President what he must do in that situation, some may argue that, as a practical matter, he would have to "just do it" and set priorities for which of the lawfully owed bills will get paid and which will not until there is more money in the Treasury to pay everything that the laws require to be paid. At some point down the road, the President could even decide to move other priorities higher than paying net interest. A President acting alone to decide which government bills to pay and which not to pay, operating without statutory authority, is anathema in a democracy based on law—clearly, something that is best avoided.”
The entire article should be carefully studied. WSJ -
OTHER CANS, OTHER ROADS
The human tendency to deny vexing situations and to procrastinate doing something about them is endemic, for example, consider the matter of ---:
ENERGY TECHNOLOGY FORCING
AS IN AGING TECHNOLOGY:
The world’s water cooled nuclear reactors, especially those deployed before 1980, need to be supplied with more robust containment structures and greater redundancy in post shut down cooling infrastructures. Or they need to be retired.
Because of fierce opposition (mostly uninformed in my opinion) from the “anything-but-nuclear” crowd, funding has dried up for the much safer, newer generations of nuclear reactors that, should have been brought on line to replace all of the aging reactors years ago. The policy paralysis put political and economic pressures on the operators of the older, less safe reactors, to kick the can down the road.
The forcing moment is almost at hand in the shape of a perfect storm of three convergent developments: [A] a huge increase in the costs of fossil fuels due to growing demand and choked supply; [B] large scale food cost inflation and [C] protracted economic stagnation – the latter two due to a growing energy shortage.
AS IN INADEQUATE TECHNOLOGY:
Windmills, solar panels and other boutique energy technologies will fail us when we most need to be kept warm or cool or fed or transported or safe. At the end of the day (a phrase rich with irony here), we will have to suffer a dramatic increase in worldwide poverty or we’ll undertake a comprehensive energy production surge, utilizing natural gas, clear coal processing technologies as a bridge to generation 3 and 4 nuclear power production. That forcing moment is close at hand.
MOTHER NATURE’S FORCING
The greatest forcing mechanism in the human story remains the inexorable laws of large scale behavior, natural and human, and the raw forces of nature, especially the laws of physics and economics and the power of water.
Leaving aside the policy, scientific and ideological
arguments about the recent global warming trend (indisputable from 1947 to
date, but otherwise subject to reasonable scientific debate), there is a hidden
conceit: We moderns are all too prone to dramatically overestimate the human
technological capacity to redirect nature.
A glimpse at
And speaking or war....
“A nuclear war could trigger declines in yield nearly
everywhere at once, and a worldwide panic could bring the global agricultural
trading system to a halt, with severe shortages in many places. Around one billion people worldwide who now
live on marginal food supplies would be directly threatened with starvation by
a nuclear war between
Back when the US and
Nuclear “non-proliferation” is the sorry tale of a can being kicked down the road.
The forcing moment, may well the regional Islamic civil was
now just underway in the
“Even a regional nuclear war could spark
"unprecedented" global cooling and reduce rainfall for years,
Widespread famine and disease would likely follow
“To see what climate effects such a regional nuclear conflict might have, scientists from NASA and other institutions modeled a war involving a hundred Hiroshima-level bombs, each packing the equivalent of 15,000 tons of TNT—just 0.03 percent of the world's current nuclear arsenal.
“’Our results suggest that agriculture could be severely impacted, especially in areas that are susceptible to late-spring and early-fall frosts,’ said Oman, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
“’Examples similar to the crop failures and famines experienced following the Mount Tambora eruption in 1815 could be widespread and last several years,’ he added. That Indonesian volcano ushered in ‘the year without summer,’ a time of famines and unrest.”
The author is a California Attorney. His novel, “The Stranded Ones”, a near-future thriller, is a highly original homage to Robert Heinlein and Michael Crichton. For an illustrated peek, go to http://jaygaskill.com/ReadTheStrandedOnes.pdf .