I gotta be honest, when I saw the photo of this super intricate ceiling with its colors, angles, layers, and carvings…I thought of the debt ceiling. The building pictured here is 418 years old and, assuming that it wasn’t build by a government agency, would have cost significantly less than $31.4 trillion (the current U.S. national debt) originally, even calculated in today’s dollars. This photo is of just one of the 365 rooms in the Tuscan castle that was snatched up by a Dubai firm for $18.1 million five years ago. $18 million for the whole castle?!?! That’s it? Is it overrun with poisonous snakes or infested with demons? Maybe the neighbors throw really loud parties?
Beyond the sheer cost of putting something like this together, it looks downright complicated to engineer. Every facet relies on another construct for its design and support. You couldn’t remove even one section without some serious buttress backup. With my limited understanding of public policy and asset allocation, I picture the current U.S. debt ceiling debacle is duly represented by Fernandino Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona’s furniture-less living room here: it’s complicated. The government spending plan probably took just as long to dream up and has had as many people working on it as have erected and maintained this castle during the last four centuries. The federal budget might not be as pleasing to the naked eye, but the $6.27 trillion the Fed’s spend every year goes to clothe a lot of otherwise naked people and protect our vulnerable country from the threats of tyranny, oppression, and violence.
The U.S. may not be as efficiently run as you or I would like to see; I’m the first to roll my eyes at ridonculous reports of overcharges and to mock misappropriations. But if this castle would have be more simplistic in its architecture and design, it most certainly would not have been so painstakingly maintained with the care which has allowed the edifice to have endured for so long. So to the national budget; it is the complexity of its statutes, authority, obligations, outlays, and manners of collection that inherently preserve its existence. Like Sammezzano’s castle, an inferior plan would have fallen into neglect and disrepair years ago.
So over the next few weeks when we hear that the players responsible to allocate the $5T in yearly collections into $6T of requested distributions, let’s cut them some slack. After all, they have a really hard job trying to do the best with what they’ve been given. And for an interesting reference point: the $1T yearly deficit difference could buy 55,555 castles like this one.