A Conversation with Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam graciously granted me a telephone interview. Here is a complete transcript of the conversation between Uncle Sam (S) and me (T):

S: Sam here.

T: Hello, uncle, it’s Thomas.

S: It’s good to hear your voice, Mr. Jefferson.

T: Sorry, not that Thomas. I’m just a humble blogger. Do you know about blogs?

S: Oh, yes. I follow all the blogs about politics and economics. It’s quite a chore, but very enlightening. The things some people think about me are shocking.

T: How so?

S: Well, there are a lot of people out there who think that I hold the solution to all economic and social problems.

T: Don’t you?

S: Of course not. People are responsible for solving their own problems. All I can do is try to create a safe environment in which they can get on with the business of life.

T: Before we explore that idea further, tell me about yourself. How did you get your job?

S: I was hired by nine of the original States in 1788, when the Constitution was ratified. The other four soon joined them, and others came along later.

T: What was your job description when you were hired?

S: Pretty much what I said a minute ago: to keep the people safe, which includes refereeing squabbles among the States and ensuring that they don’t erect barriers to keep out people and goods from other States.

T: But you seem to have acquired a lot of additional duties since 1788.

S: Sad, but true. And it’s wearing me down. I have to pretend to be a lot wiser and more capable than any one person can be. I wish the States would get together and pare my job description down to its original specifications.

T: It seems unlikely, though. A lot of people have come to depend on you to do things they could do for themselves.

S: And it’s getting very expensive — like having 300 million dependents. The only way I’ll be able to support them all is to raise their taxes. I could borrow money from foreigners, but the more I borrow, the more expensive it will become. Eventually, foreigners will look at my balance sheet and cut me off.

T: So what it boils down to is this: In the end, your dependents must pay for the things that you do for them. Correct?

S: That’s exactly right. I’m just running a big Ponzi scheme. And most of the people who sign up for it are fools who believe that they’re getting something for nothing.

T: What’s in it for you?

S: Well, I must admit that I get a cut of the action.

T: So, when all the dust settles, your dependents don’t even get all of their money back from you?

S: Are you kidding? Of course they don’t. If they want me to do all of this extra work, they have to pay me for my trouble.

T: Do you think it’s possible to cut your job back to its original size?

S: Only if a lot more people get wise to me. Most of them seem to think I’m Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.

T: But the politicians who give you your orders don’t believe such things, do they?

S: Some of them do. Most of them are just using me to make things work the way they want them to. It’s called “control.” I’ve seen all the presidents, members of Congress, and Supreme Court jutices — from great to mediocre — and almost every one of them was, or is, a control freak. Washington had to be one in order to get things off the ground. Without him, I wouldn’t have a job. Ditto Lincoln, who had to be a control freak in order to save the Union. Not that that was a bad thing, mind you, especially because it brought an end to slavery. But how many presidents since Lincoln have tried to stuff the genie (me) back in the bottle? Cleveland, Coolidge, and Reagan — that’s about it. And whatever success they enjoyed was only temporary. The people are good at fooling themselves, and politicians excel at helping them along.

T: You seem pessimistic.

S: I am. What’s needed is another Revolution, but a peaceful one. Those are hard to come by.

T: I’ll end our conversation on that note. Thanks very much, Sam.

S: Thank you for listening. And give my best wishes to the Tea Party.