Our Fiscal Cliff–What Will It Be, a Fence or an Ambulance?

As our fiscal cliff looms closer and closer, I’m reminded of a poem from my childhood: A Fence or An Ambulance, by Joseph Malins. The first stanza goes as follows:

“Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,

Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;

But over its terrible edge there had slipped

A duke and full many a peasant.

So the people said something would have to be done,

But their projects did not at all tally;

Some said, “Put a fence around the edge of the cliff,”

Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”


In the remainder of the poem, they had quite a debate back and forth over which was preferable: a fence to prevent the falls or an ambulance to haul them off. In the end, the fence barely won out. From present indications, I’m not so sure we’ll be that lucky.


Comments (6)

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  1. Charles Miller says:

    Greetings Bob, Couldn’t resist. Here’s John Denver doing a performance usinng “ambulance down in the valley”:



  2. JustOne says:

    It’s been a while since I posted any comments here … but I could not resist. Your worries about the cliff are well founded.

    Ships sink when, over a period of time, the weight of the water that has entered through a hole in the hull has exceeded the buoyancy of the hull. If the leak exceeded the bilge pump capacity to remove it, the result is clear. It takes a while but the end is inevitable.

    Similarly, political-economic systems collapse when the weight of interest being accumulated on old wealth exceeds the capacity of the system to support the load by creating new wealth.

    All systems in which the load is growing exponentially (no matter how low the exponent) will eventually create an accumulated load that exceeds the system’s capacity to support that load.

    This can be considered the “exponential system instability” or the “interest instability” in a “time value of money” based banking system where interest earned is proportional to the capital that is loaned.

    Since the world has a finite amount of solar energy that supplies the biosphere, an exponentially growing, “too big to fail” monetary system will eventually grow to extract more interest than the solar input to the system can provide. Weaker components of the system will fail first. Then a few more that are not so weak.

    First the a few elements collapse (Lehman, AIG, etc.). Then other ones like GM and American Airlines. Then small revolutions take out a few countries like the Balkans, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Then economic issues arise in other areas like Greece, Spain, Italy and Ireland.

    Like the end of a Monopoly game, rents being extracted eventually exceed the input from the players passing GO. All but the winner soon are bankrupt.

    So who now holds the prime monopolies and who has the most $500 bills under the edge of the board. Would that be China or UAE or Russia or the USA? And who is holding a weak position and going broke first.

    Unless something happens to increase the input (like increasing the reward for passing GO to $2000 instead of $200) and limit the size of rents being extracted (like only allowing one hotel on each property), the end is always the same. It is a winner-take-all game.

    The rules require it (just as allowing banks and sovereign wealth funds to grow without limits will ultimately produce a dividend and interest burden on the economy that exceeds the value of all inputs to the economy). It is just a matter of time until the old accumulated wealth extracts new wealth faster than new wealth is produced.

    I asked someone recently, “what happens at the end of all Monopoly games?” He answered, “My brother flipped the board.”

    That is what happened to Husein and Gaddafi. That is what will happen to the super rich on Long Island when the “Occupy X” mobs start throwing Molotov cocktails.

    When the burden becomes too great, Czars and Kings fall … even the White House Czars. And it will be deadly for many and no fun for anyone.

    Your worry is well taken. I think it is possible to build a fence but it may be too late … and, sadly, too overwhelming for the ambulance.

  3. Harold Black says:

    Bob, You should know that the Fed is equally if not more responsible for positioning us on the edge of the cliff. Monetizing the debt should be illegal under all but emergency circumstances. By the Fed purchasing securities directly from the Treasury it allows this obscene spending to continue. If this Fed actually believed in fiscal responsibility and not eroding the value of the dollar it would just say no to acquiescing to the rapacious desires of this administration. I was once hopeful that Bernanke and his board would grow a set but those hopes are no more. Now the hope is that we get a change in administration and with it in 2014 a strong chairman. Now the only hope – however wistfully – is that Bernanke resigns.

  4. Bob McTeer says:

    Come on Harold, just enjoy the poem. Hope you are doing well. Bob

  5. Catherine says:

    I love the metaphor AND the video! Thanks to both Bob and Charles.

  6. Gro says:

    A true fix,I am not sure if you read the comments fully. It looks like 1 fihgfierter who is anti-rescue made some comments. The other people who were making comments I dont think are on rescue if you look at their posts.I think this would be a great idea if Sam and Jason had the time or desire to lead both. They have built up the busiest volunteer rescue department in the state. I am a rescue member who also used to be on the fd. I know the rescue and fire were merged for a short time and it failed miserably. Look at how bad it is in Milton, they never get crews, their ambulance budget is like 200,000 and they never get a crew when their rescue people are not working. Its sad. The fact is most ambulance services are seperate from FD’s. Theres many reasons for this.When we fell under the fd, the fire chief had no clue about the ambulance. Even though the ambulance has triple the calls the fd has, they took the rescue budget and fixed fire trucks, paid for fire equipment and other things. So many people left. Skip wood when he was appointed chief made it clear that the rescue should not be part of the fd and they seperated. You also loose grant money if you are combined. Look at all the things the rescue has got the town for no cost through grants. When your combined, you can only do one grant instead of 2 each year. I agree the newer generation should take over. Look how far Sam and Jason have brought the ambulance service. If you look on the rescue rooster, they have a ton of members that left the fire department and never want to be members. If you ever combined them, you would see a lot of members quit.The other thing you have wrong is, both departments work together fine. They work together great on scenes, the rescue helped the fire department with storm calls this past storm and the officers of both departments meet often to discuss any concerns. As far as the CIP, the rescue has had money to buy the very needed ambulance for years, at no cost. Last time it barely didnt pass, and this year hopefully it will.When you combine fire and rescue, you lose members, you lose funding, you lose grant opportunities and so much more. Both have good people and both are working fine. This is absolutely hilarious! MOST departments are not combined. Again, look how bad Milton has it. They pay so much money for barely any response. Lebanon Rescue has been self funded for years and have a great membership and are considered to be top notch in townspeople and area departments eyes.We will never have full-time people in public safety and when you combine them, thats all they look for.Leave good enough alone!