Back in the Summer of ‘98

The Far Middle episode 98 begins with a look back on the origin of April Fools’ Day, which coincides with the sweet sound of “play ball!” and the start of Major League Baseball’s regular season. Baseball is the theme of this week’s dedication as Nick goes back 25 years to the summer of 1998 and the epic slugfest between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire to break Roger Maris’ 61 home-run record set in 1961.

Following a look at the strange issues surrounding the long-ball record, Nick transitions to the legislative and political dynamics leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 (that also includes a unique baseball tie-in). Next, Nick offers a sobering analysis of America’s federal debt—a liability that has climbed rapidly over the past 40 years to more than $31 trillion today.

“Something that would help dig our government out of this massive debt crater would of course be economic growth,” says Nick. “And for economic growth, a prerequisite is job growth. People work and business booms, and government ends up seeing more tax revenues and it also experiences less outflows for entitlements—pretty basic stuff.” This leads Nick into a review of U.S. jobs statistics, followed by an analysis of the Congressional Budget Office’s latest Budget and Economic Outlook released in February.

Nick describes the state of the federal government’s finances as trapped within a “squeeze play,” and says spending austerity is the only way out of the mess we’re in. Entitlement reform—even modest—won’t be easy. France’s move to raise its retirement age from 62 to 64 and the ensuing public revolt is a prime example.

In closing, Nick goes back to 1941 and Joseph Stalin’s false sense of security, refusing to listen to the data that Germany was preparing an offensive on the Soviet Union. That refusal led to millions of deaths and pushed his nation to the brink of existence. “It didn’t have to be that bad if Stalin would have paid attention to the reality and facts,” says Nick. In comparing to our federal government’s fiscal mess, Nick says he hopes it’s not a matter of millions of lives at stake, but in some ways it is, because if we don’t fix the mess then millions of lives will be materially impacted.