The sciatic nerve runs through the lower back to provide sensory data from the legs, hips, and buttocks to the brain. It is a very effective nerve. The strongest man in the world may feel like he is ready to battle giants, but pinch his sciatic nerve in just the right way and he will crumple to the ground and cry out in pain.
Complex machines have their equivalents of sciatic nerves. As a father, many is the time I have driven along a particularly hostile stretch of highway with my young family in the back, and thought about the fragile wires, hoses, and sensors upon which an automobile depends. Pinch any one of them just right and a joyful family vacation is instantly turned into a nightmare.
Nature has its sciatic nerves. How many times have we heard about a local ecology collapsing because the life cycle of a small fish, or a tiny insect, or a fungus was interrupted, and we had no idea of its crucial function within the overall system?
Our domestic economy has its sciatic nerves too. It cannot be otherwise in so complex a web of interactions. The fragility of these interactions render it as vulnerable to disruption as the environment, or an automobile, or our physiology. Treating it with macro-solutions based on ignorance and ideology is the equivalent of repairing an ecological niche with a bulldozer, or an automobile with a sledgehammer, or a sciatic nerve with a kitchen knife.
Society nurtures the roles of experts to help maintain systems too complex for the layman to understand but upon which we depend. We have doctors and pharmacologists for our bodies, we have engineers and mechanics for our automobiles, we have biologists and naturalists for the environment, and we have economists for our economy. Failing to avail ourselves of such experts when we need them is nonsensical.
When the subject is the federal deficit, there are plenty of expert economists who stand ready to help us do the right thing. They understand economic complexity. They are familiar with its sciatic nerves. What these experts are telling us is that the debt ceiling deal congress has struck with its self will suck money out of the economy. It may lower economic growth for years to come and cause the unemployment of hundreds of thousands of us and possibly put the economy back into recession. In an already tenuous economic context, the problems it causes may be more harmful than simply having allowed the federal deficit to grow. The dollar value of the damage done may exceed the money saved.
I do not know how many members of congress have had formal training and experience in the field of economics, but from what one hears and reads the average among them is a novice. What they have done is the equivalent of taking a sick man to the barber to be bled. If they were trying to fix our bodies instead of our economy we would call them quacks. (And to this end, perhaps the most insidious thing about the lobbyists infesting our government is not that they do what they do, but that while they are doing it the congressmen they are doing it to are distracted from the expert voices they really need to hear.)
In the name of ideology and politics our nation’s complex economy has been treated roughly and ignorantly. Congress has turned a deaf ear to the experts who could have helped and instead adopted obtuse methods. In their headlong, ideologically-blinded efforts they may crush more than a few sciatic nerves, and many of us who today feel ready to battle giants may soon be crumpling to the ground and crying out in pain.
Chris Mills lives in Groton with his wife. He has three adult children. Chris welcomes reader feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org