Discover more from #5SmartReads
#5SmartReads - May 18, 2023
Hitha on the debt ceiling, loneliness, and what I'm learning from Rachel Cargle and Zarna Garg
One obscure example of American exceptionalism is our debt ceiling.
We’re one of two industrialized nations with one - the second is Denmark. And unlike the States, Denmark’s debt ceiling is set at DKK 2 trillion, with a current debt level of 645 billion.
And that significant buffer is one reason why Denmark’s debt ceiling is treated as a formality rather than a political issue. They’ve also been paying down their debt (as they did last year, when they had a budget surplus).
If we’re being honest, the debt ceiling has, in practice, been a formality in the United States in recent years. The most prudent thing would be to do away with it entirely, but the optics of suggesting that are negative (and would be spun in such inflammatory ways that it would hijack the news cycle and be manipulated into some nefarious, wasteful, unconstitutional narrative).
But that’s another issue entirely…and a fairly depressing one.
Zarna Garg’s New Stand-Up Special Is a Family Affair (Harper’s Bazaar)
If you haven’t watched Zarna Garg’s comedy special yet, put it at the top of your watch queue and enjoy every second of it.
I went into this interview expecting to learn more about Zarna’s unlikely comedic career and the tactics she’s used to build such an incredible platform. I didn’t expect to get a patriotism lesson, and said lesson is my favorite takeaway from this interview:
“…it’s my desire to make American people feel good about themselves, to remind them why people like me come here. The American psyche has taken such a hit in the last decade or so. There’s a lot of “We suck. We don’t do this right, we don’t do that right.”
No one’s perfect, and there’s a lot of room for improvement. But speaking as somebody who lived in much harsher environments, I feel like I’m in a position to remind Americans how great they are. Something so special about being in America is you can get up onstage and be critical of anybody and anything, and that’s okay.”
Come for the laughs, stay for the immense wisdom and the reminder to not plan so hard that you forget to live your life.
How the American Dream convinces people loneliness is normal (Associated Press)
I love this remarkable, complicated country that I call home. And I also am grateful to have been raised with a deep connection to my South Asian heritage, and taught the power of leaning on each other and cultivating your village.
And yet, I also have been seduced with the rugged individualism ideal that has left me burnt out, insecure, and feeling extremely anxious. Most of all, it left me feeling so lonely, especially in the hard moments, and that it was something I needed to hide.
And then I published this post and newsletter:
Where did this notion that we had to do it all and do it alone come from?
It’s a narrative nearly as old as our country, and the crafting of said narrative - promoting rugged individualism while ignoring the community structures that make such individualism possible - was but a seed in the early 1800’s, and now something we view as American as our version of football or Costco.
Take some time to read this very smart piece. Not only does it unpack this American myth, it serves as a reminder that the most American thing is our propensity to change - and this is something we can (and should!) change.
I’m very much about the multi-hyphenated life and career. But I also have a lot to learn about embracing the former - and specifically, from Rachel Cargle.
“Cargle has a way of bringing whimsy to the most serious of purposes. On this rainy Sunday, she spoke of revolution while dressed in a sequined caftan. She strives to stay her easeful self at all times, especially as an employer whose behavior can impact others. “I don’t want to feel continuously at the mercy of the weather,” she says. She’s speaking metaphorically: the weather of politics, of people’s perceptions. “I want to be good whatever the weather is, and that takes a self-knowing,” she says. “That can’t be handed to you from anywhere—not from your parents, not from your religion, not from your job. Joy lives inside you.””
Take your time to savor this piece the way you do an exceptional piece of chocolate, or staring at a piece of art that speaks to you, or when you take a second to lift your head up and feel the sun shining on your face. It’s an article I return to when I’m feeling out of sorts, and I have a feeling her book (which I’ve triple ordered in every format because I just know it’s that kind of work) will be the same.
Could we finally be closer to the IRS just telling us how much we owe - and paying it?
Yes. And the $14B tax prep industry is not too happy about it, claiming that the system is unnecessary and a solution in search of a problem (a common refrain from companies feeling threatened about the future of their business).
It won’t be easy (especially since state returns need to be filed alongside federal ones, and this pilot appears to be focused on federal taxes), but it could be a big win for Americans (we spend too much money and time on taxes), and for the sponsors of this program.