San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

The Secret of Life

Shelby, my science adviser, came racing down from his hilltop laboratory yesterday to boast that he had discovered the “secret of life.” Reluctantly, because I hate

to discourage enthusiasm, I pointed out that there is no secret to life.

A few common organic chemicals found in every puddle and a bolt of lightning to get things started creates the necessary nucleotides after every thunderstorm, and from then on it’s simply a matter of luck whether they hit on the double helix and start reproducing. Aristotle was right, in a sense, though 23 centuries ago he couldn’t possibly have known it. Shelby looked so crestfallen that I tried to soften the blow by asking his advice on how to create a frog, but it seems he hadn’t got that far, so I shut up.

To me it seems a bit weird that anyone would want to create life in a laboratory, when the time-tested procedure can so easily be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. And anyway, if you’ll just try planting late in the day when the gnats are biting, there’s too darned much life around here already.

But no doubt Shelby’s aim was to create artificial soldiers to fight our wars without having to resort to the immensely unpopular draft. My own view is that we should quit declaring war as a means of reviving a listless economy, and think of some other way to make people start spending money again.

Which raises the question of why they aren’t spending at the required rate, and the answer, of course, is that for people, unlike governments, there comes a level of debt at which they hesitate to acquire more, thereby automatically setting the stage for a recession. But the Keynesian solution is now old hat, and we must try something else.

So my daring contribution is not to just keep reducing interest rates so as to encourage more borrowing, but to declare a moratorium on all personal debt, reimbursing creditors out of tax funds that would otherwise go to prosecuting war. If, instead of worrying about how in the world you’re going to pay off your debts, you get told that come Monday you don’t have any, I guarantee you’ll be off to the super the same day.

The reasoning behind this seemingly absurd proposition is that the current arrangements for creating wealth benefit the wrong people: the manufacturers of material intentionally scheduled for destruction, who are not the ones who keep the economy humming. We need to benefit the ordinary consumer who isn’t pulling his weight for the reason stated.

I am aware that the concept of debt forgiveness runs counter to the principles of nonconformist morality, not to mention those of creditors who would hate to be paid off in government funds, but now is the time to strike, while the opposition is at its weakest. Anyway, have a go at it on a small scale at first, and if it doesn’t work, I’ll think of something else.


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