Believe it or not there is a town with that name deep in the lakes of Maine, off of what has been known as the Airline road since before airplanes became ubiquitous, which, despite its remoteness, is thriving in its own backwoods way. The biggest mystery about this wonderfully named town is not how and why it thrives BUT how it got and kept such an unusual name.
To understand, one first has to understand Maine dialect. When most down-east Maniacs say the words, “many bumps” it does sound quite like “meddy bemps.” Or perhaps local American Indians used words/sounds like this to describe the place. In any event maps of the northeastern counties of the State of Maine in the mid-19th century largely showed nothing but empty space with few exceptions. One was MeddyBemps on MeddyBemps Lake.
The shortest (but often longest) route between Bangor and Calais was, until recent years, one seriously rough unpaved road with many, many bumps. With typical Maine directness, commonsense and wry humor MeddyBemps became, and remains, an appropriate name, despite the fact that the road to get there for a long time was mainly paved with good intentions and still has lots of bumps. Very few people can remember or explain how the town came to have that unforgettable name but it has stuck proudly and tight.
So what does that little footnote to history have to do with life in the U.S. and the world today? Of course the answer is that we are still living through periods of many bumps of various types and will continue to for a long time to come. AND, it might be a good idea for all of us to adopt Maine’s temperament of directness, common sense and wry humor.
Today’s bumps are not just speed bumps — though such warnings would be a good idea — but they are serious, wrenching shifts in the tectonic plates of modern society brought on by great surges in growth and wealth and population. The inevitable road to make the adjustments that necessarily follow such surges will be long and bumpy.
We are coming off a period when housing prices were rising so fast and consistently that more people were buying and building to speculate than to habitate. They were using the easiest money in man’s memory, often with no equity, nothing down and scant evidence of capacity to pay, because they figured next year’s increase in home values would take them out at a nice profit. Evidently they had never played musical chairs as kids.
We are coming off a period when 17 million new cars a year were being sold in the U.S. Loans with no down payment and “easy” monthly obligations were tempting more and more people to trade up and often. Now 12 million cars a year is big news.
We are coming off a period when we were enjoying practically full employment. Pay was rising and dependable. Now we have 9+ percent unemployment and the needle is stuck.
We are coming off a period when the economic growth of the 1990s, following the dot com boom, brought increased tax revenues, and by 2000 we had balanced current budgets and our overall national debt was headed down. Now we are back to the biggest current and accumulated deficits ever.
We are coming off a period when our sense of national security dictated the need to engage in what have turned into two of the longest and costliest wars in all our history. Now we are stuck with gigantic defense budgets as far as the eye can see.
We are coming off a period when advances in modern medicine and way of life have extended life expectancy by as much as 20 years compared to the previous generation. But still 30 million Americans have no health insurance.
We are coming off a period when the cost of health care in the U.S. is growing like a cancer and will grow much faster than any possible economic growth essential to pay for it unless we take serious real steps to rein it in.
We are coming off a period when the discretionary portion of our national budget is under 20 percent. The non-discretionary balance of 80 percent is defense, entitlements (social security and health) and interest costs on our national debt, all of which defies any political knowhow or will to address. There is no real room to maneuver unless we tackle the non-discretionary balance of the budget as well.
We are coming off a period when almost all citizens have come to expect that they will have jobs and security from cradle to grave. Where has our residual sense of self reliance gone?
I’ll bet you would prefer not to hear a lot more about what we are “coming off.” Well, there are more than have been listed and they all are serious bumps in our road ahead.
The President is right that the only way to deal with all those bumps is to take them in stride in good humor and in a collective way agree somehow that the pain has to be shared rationally and fairly by all segments in our society.
It really should not be a surprise that the recent “compromise” makes almost no one happy. If it did clearly those people would have been just plain lucky and their luck is surely unlikely to hold.
MeddyBemps is still there and its citizens are still folks who see the world like it is — replete with bumps. They have learned over time that though they may be in the middle of nowhere, they still are part of a larger world. That world whose many bumps and problems, over which they have little or no control, can make their lives worse, no matter how hard they try by themselves to pave a smoother road. WE ALL owe it to all the MeddyBempers in the U.S. to try hard to get it right and not just score political points in DC debates. Better to risk an election than risk the future of our children.