Killing Tinker BellBy: FireTag
Peter Pan was a wonderful story for me as a six-year old when the Broadway show was first televised by NBC to help market the new-fangled color TVs. Even though we didn’t have the money for color TV, seeing pirates and flying children cavort above the stage even in black-and-white made the program then the most-watched in TV history. (The best part was I got to stay up late; it was the arts, after all.)
At the end of Act II, Captain Hook succeeds in capturing Wendy and all of Peter’s other allies and slips poison into Peter’s medicine bottle, unseen by anyone but the tiny fairy Tinker Bell. Since Peter isn’t very good at listening to anyone, he ignores Tink’s warnings, and prepares to drink. So Tink zips in front of him and downs the poison herself. To the horror of the millions of children watching, Tinker Bell’s light begins to sputter and fade. Tinker Bell is dying.
And then Peter turns to the audience and invites them to enter completely into the fantasy world. Tink can be saved if only the children believe hard enough. They must clap their hands louder and louder and recite over and over, “I do believe in fairies. I do believe in fairies. I do. I do.”
There may have been children somewhere cynically saying, “I don’t believe in fairies!” However, I was not one of them, and there were millions of kids just like me watching that show. And what do you know? Tinker Bell was magically healed, and Peter flew off to rescue Wendy and the Lost Boys.
But, of course, the healing wasn’t magic. The script had always been written that way.
Now, we could launch into an interesting discussion from here into the connection of religious faith and miracles — but that isn’t where I want to go today. Instead, I want to talk about how the lack of belief is playing into economic conditions.
I was lured into this line of thought by an article last week in a British newspaper. The author, Janet Daley, described a world economy that is a lot like the crocodile with the ticking clock in its tummy in the stage play:
“The economy is now beyond the control of national governments, and therefore outside the remit of democratic politics. It has become truly global, and thus a law unto itself; nation states have gone broke in their attempt to feed its gargantuan appetites for consumption and debt. The remedies for this began in panic and are now ending in delusion: first the banks went bust and were bailed out by governments; then the governments went bust and needed to be bailed out by – whom? International funding agencies which get their cash from – where? From central banks which will have to print gigantic amounts of money to replace all the money that simply disappeared in the bad debt that bankrupted the banks in the first place. And if we all agree to accept the illusion that this newly printed cash has actual value – if we all clap really hard and say that we believe in fairies – then the whole show can get back on the road and we will be rich again.”
Daley goes on to note that this requires nearly everyone, and certainly everyone in positions of power, to convince themselves that the clapping is also convincing everyone else. As soon as one nation — say, Germany, or the UK, or the United States — can no longer look away from the nakedness of the Emperor (if you’ll pardon the mixed fairy tale metaphor) and hide from the self-knowledge that this is not ending well for everyone, the script moves on from reviving Tinker Bell to figuring out who will be forced to pay the bills.
Everyone is drafting a new script for themselves, but nobody knows what the final script will be, or whether they are being offered the role of hero, the role of villain, or the role of victim.
Do you think that if any individual were actually in control of what’s happening in Europe, North Africa, or the Mideast – from Bush to Obama to Cameron to Sarkozy to Merkel to Mubarak to Erdogan to Putin to Assad to Netanyahu to Khamenei — any of them would have let things get this far?
One prime candidate to pay the bills, unfortunately, is the coming generation. Kids are wonderful, but they aren’t power players. So they may be future heroes or future villains, but they are likely to enter the stage as potential victims. In nations where economic hardship meets political upheaval, we see the specters of war, disease, starvation, or ignorance robbing hope and potential from lives. But even in so-far-sheltered locales of the Western nations, the new script is not what we’ve imagined it to be, and we haven’t yet realized the change.
As Niall Ferguson has recently written:
“The heart of the matter is the way public debt allows the current generation of voters to live at the expense of those as yet too young to vote or as yet unborn. In this regard, the statistics commonly cited as government debt are themselves deeply misleading, for they encompass only the sums owed by governments in the form of bonds…But the official debts in the form of bonds do not include the often far larger unfunded liabilities of welfare schemes like – to give the biggest American programs – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
“The most recent estimate for the difference between the net present value of federal government liabilities and the net present value of future federal revenues is $200 trillion, nearly 13 times the debt as stated by the US Treasury. Notice that these figures, too, are incomplete, since they omit the unfunded liabilities of state and local governments, which are estimated to be around $38 trillion.
“These mind-boggling numbers represent nothing less than a vast claim by the generation currently retired or about to retire on their children and grandchildren, who are obligated by current law to find the money in the future, by submitting either to substantial increases in taxation or to drastic cuts in other forms of public expenditure…”
It should, of course, be noted that either of those routes imply drastic decreases in private expenditures on one’s own health, comfort, or personal development. We will not all be living in equality, leisure, or self-fulfilling careers in such a future. Even opportunities to serve others will be curtailed.
Ferguson points to two possible outcomes, but describes the current system as simply fraudulent, with looming dangers simply hidden from view:
“It seems as if there are only two possible ways out of this mess. In the good but less likely scenario, the proponents of reform succeed, through a heroic effort of leadership, in persuading not only the young but also a significant proportion of their parents and grandparents to vote for a more responsible fiscal policy. .. If we do not do these things then I am afraid we are going to end up with the bad, but more likely, second scenario. Western democracies are going to carry on in their current feckless fashion until, one after another, they follow Greece and other Mediterranean economies into the fiscal death spiral that begins with a loss of credibility, continues with a rise in borrowing costs, and ends as governments are forced to impose spending cuts and higher taxes at the worst possible moment.”
In a religious setting, “reform” begins with “repentance”, or, at the very least, acknowledgement of past moral ignorance. We have been ignorant of what desires for more consumption without greater productivity and wisdom is bringing upon us. We have to stop clapping now and let Tinker Bell take her place as a children’s fantasy. We have to be urgently about the business of telling the pirates from our allies, and of relearning restraint. Or it will be our children and grandchildren sacrificed to the crocodile.