The Punch and Judy Show


The recent default show-down was pure political theater. We take sides and condone this at our own peril, while serious issues loom over the long-term health of our society. This excerpt is from Thomas Donlan in this week’s Barrons:

If journalists can be the fourth estate of representative government by chattering about the official executive, legislative, and judicial estates, investors must be members of the fifth estate. Their opinions, expressed in bids to buy and offers to sell rather than in narrative, also send important information to the whole system about value and financial stability.

So what did the fifth estate say about the government’s financial crisis last week, and the week before, and the week before that? Not much.

They were right. The whole thing was a Punch-and-Judy show, making farce out of genuine political conflict. It was default theater, as meaningless as the security theater that’s on continuous display in our airports.


The important result of the two-week government shutdown has been to take away another bit of Americans’ confidence in government and respect for their leaders. Most Main Streeters were like Wall Streeters, going about their other business with barely a glance at the televised theatrics in Washington. To a large extent, this is healthy.

The people have come to believe, on evidence that is all too good and repeated all too often, that Punch and Judy are both operated by the same hidden puppeteer, who goes by the title professional politician. The politicians’ fights are not real; they are staged to shock and horrify a childish audience.

The October show was just an insignificant preliminary exhibition, anyway. The championship event will come when the entitlements go bust, maybe decades from now. When the people learn that the government has been kidding them about their rights to Social Security, health care, and other public benefits, they also will find that those programs are overstretching the resources of half the country to support the other half.


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