Is it an Allegory or a Credit Rating?

During the debate about raising the debt ceiling, a group of Tea Party Republicans seemed confident that having the country's credit rating downgraded would not be the catastrophe that many had suggested. Did they see an allegorical path to political advantage? or did they just assume that the White House and Treasury Department had enough employees to handle the flood of phone calls from the Chinese asking when they could expect the next payment. The image of a small army of Chinese call center workers calling the Treasury Secretary every couple of hours should be enough but the real question is what does a credit rating mean?

Let me digress before coming back to that question. I recently heard Jesse Winchester interviewed after a performance. He was asked about the inspiration for his tune “Yankee Lady” and whether it was real person. I admit that I was grinning smugly at the question. This is Jesse Winchester who grew up in the deep south, who had several chart hits as a folk singer, who left the south and the United States to live in Canada rather than be drafted and go to Vietnam, who did an amazing show from a club in Montreal that was broadcast live across the eastern seaboard to help promote the notion of amnesty for draft dodgers, the same Jesse Winchester that wrote the amazing allegory for leaving his homeland because of his conscience, the hero who wrote an anthem for a generation, the magnificent, allegorical “Yankee Lady”.

His answer included an entire history of a relationship that led to the song and how glad he was that years later, he and the inspiration for the song had become friends again and she had recently traveled to see him in concert. Stunning! Earth shattering! The song is a ballad of love and affection, not the anthem for a generation that I had always believed.

At the same time that Jesse Winchester was packing to leave for Canada, I was managing a student radio station at a University in Washington, DC. The Nixon administration had decided to put an end to drug related lyrics in popular music by assigning the Federal Communications Commission the task of denying license renewal to stations that aired offending tunes like “Puff the Magic Dragon”, “Eight Miles High” and “The Mighty Quinn”. I was one of the station managers of the several college stations in the DC area who were invited to be panelists on a local radio station to interview a representative of the FCC about the proposed policy.

As a group, we were young, eager and inexperienced. We were really no match for our interviewee in the first half of the show. We recovered nicely by the end and had our subject sputtering that it was obvious what a song meant and that surely the FCC could tell what was drug related, like the songs I just mentioned. It is not important that Peter Yarrow says he wrote a children's song or that the Byrds say that they wrote about flying from Europe to North America or that Bob Dylan claims he was inspired to write a children's song by seeing Anthony Quinn as the hero in a film. The meaning of things is obvious, particularly if you have an agenda that needs to be supported.

To get back to credit ratings, like the nature of artistic expression, the meaning is obvious to those with the agenda to use them for their own benefit. For a month before the budget compromise was passed, there were threats about what would happen when the credit rating was downgraded, not if, but when. The interesting part of the discussion was that part of the new procedures that went into effect with the bailout of financial institutions was a major change in the way the Standard and Poor's ratings were calculated in indices by federal agencies. S&P's power was reduced (in essence their credit rating was downgraded) by having their ratings downgraded in these assessments. Major changes in the rules provide major changes in the way people react, so S&P's reaction is predictable as either a retaliation or just an adjustment in the way business is done. More context for the S&P action is seen in the 2 trillion dollar error in their announcement and the follow up announcement that many cities and even the University of North Carolina were also downgraded. Finally, not all of groups who establish these ratings downgraded US Treasury Bonds. With the world markets atwitter with potential impacts, the stock market fell dramatically while people lined up to buy those downgraded treasury bills! The same ones that were suddenly less reliable.

What does all this mean? To me, this represents the natural corrections that have to occur as the terrible mess on Wall Street continues to sort itself out. Expect more bumps in the road to economic recovery and more angry rhetoric and, well, more of the same as the problems resolve themselves. I see it this way because I tend to see dynamic systems rather than short term outcomes. My life experience demands that I respond to the deterministic chaos of systems to understand the complexity of possible outcomes. In other words, big picture thinking that I have modified by applying mathematical models of chaos theory. One of my assumptions in this view is that many people will not respond to events the way that I do and the meaning of these events opens itself to many different interpretations. Those interpretations are integral to the very dynamics of the system.

I know that Jesse Winchester wrote a song about the end of a relationship. I know that for 40 years I have known the song as an allegory from a time of great pain. I know that Jesse Winchester has no control over how I respond to his song. I know that I am glad that we all can take meaning from events in unpredictable ways. I know that the stories we tell about our lives add richness to the lives of others. I know that no agency can regulate or determine what anything means to me or the general public no matter how much they would like to be the arbiter of meaning.

I cannot know the meaning of all things. I rely on my experiences and the experiences of others to establish the meaning of events, of my life. I know that the more stories I hear, the better I am able to see the big picture and gather meaning dynamically, even if it means giving up on ideas that I have held dear for two generations. I know that the more stories of life's joys, sorrows and changes appear on Story Chip, the more chance that someone will see an allegory that gives them strength even if it was nothing more than a late payment sent to the Chinese. Visit Story Chip and add your stories.

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