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OVER the years, through funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Graduate School USA (formerly the “Graduate School, USDA”) has been examining the CNMI government’s financial condition and drawing up lists of recommendations that can be summed up in two words: don’t overspend.

But telling the government — any government anywhere — not to overspend, to paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke, is like giving whiskey and car keys to a teenage boy, and then telling him not to drink and drive. 

Graduate School USA’s latest foray into the quagmire that is the CNMI government’s finances produced a 14-page briefing paper which was the main topic of discussion during last month’s online Fiscal Response Summit.

It was all good. The briefing paper was informative and factual. Key officials, stakeholders and members of the public participated in the summit. The discussions were educational.

As for the proposed solutions, they are — like the recommendation from the past — pretty obvious and common-sensical. The question now is: Can they be implemented?

Graduate School USA’s experts are, of course, not politicians nor they should show any obvious political inclination. They are technocrats, and I mean it in a good way. But when they come up with proposals that the government has to implement, they are, like it or not, wading into the murky waters of politics.

And this true with any other “solution” to the CNMI government’s financial problems that is proposed by just about everyone. It has to go through the constitutionally mandated democratic (that is, political) process. Voters and/or their elected officials must have their say.

As U.S. political analyst Yuval Levin would put it, to govern is to make hard choices among competing options with incomplete information. In each election year, many voters hope that the candidates they are supporting can “solve” problems. In reality, the winning candidates, whoever they are, are likely to end up choosing which problems they would rather have.

In any case, “common-sense” in politics means something else. In a common-sensical world, “socialists” and other leftists would have been regarded as the amusing crackpots that many of them are. But in the real world, they and their illiberal and unprogressive beliefs are taken seriously (and they themselves are called “liberals” and “progressives” even though they’re neither).

As a former fire-breathing leftist, I still know the drill.

First, we will express sympathy for and solidarity with the “people.” We will appeal to the people’s better nature and their rational selves. We will solicit their support for common-sensical proposals that may inconvenience many of them now, but will, for sure (because we say so), result in a better tomorrow for all of us.

When cajolery doesn’t work — and it seldom does when you’re peddling unpopular measures — leftists will unhappily resort to name-calling and sweeping condemnation. This will be followed by calls for coercion and compulsion under “strong” and “decisive” but “enlightened” leadership. The “people,” alas, are basically juvenile delinquents who just won’t listen and can’t be trusted to do what is right. They must be ruled by their self-appointed, self-proclaimed moral and intellectual superiors.

For many in the Left, moreover, there is nothing to learn from the past unless it confirms their assumptions. They always compare the present with a mythical past or a hypothetical future. Hence, their deep-seated frustration and dissatisfaction with whatever it is that is happening today. (They were troubled when the economy was growing. They’re bummed out when it cratered.)

Still, some may wonder, especially now that Graduate School USA’s experts have already prepared a list of “expenditure reduction” and “revenue enhancement” measures: where are the actual, specific, detailed policy proposals/bills from the reform-minded and very concerned lawmakers?

Maybe they’re still in the drafting stage. But it’s also an election year so perhaps we’ll have to wait until the 12th of never.

Meanwhile, all together now:  Transparency! Accountability! Change!



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November 2020 pssnewsletter

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