Time magazine states that its Person of the Year "is bestowed by the editors on the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year." With these criteria, the winner is expected to be announced on December 13.
Since a corporation, which is certainly a thing, is fundamentally deemed to be a "person" with some rights under the law, it follows that the Person of the Year could in fact be construed to be a thing.
Indeed, there is a thing that looms large and meets the Time criteria. In an age of nuance and spin, where little is what it seems, it is resolute and demonstrates clarity. During times of sophistry, straw modeling, and false dichotomies, it poses only rectitude. In an epoch of moral relativism, it speaks to objectivity of standards. While self-promotion is the currency of politics, its influence is so strong that it need not advertise. In an era of national doubt and ambiguity, it tolerates no uncertainty. At a time when our elected officials joust for the sake of jousting, yearning to settle old scores with new insults, it offers a dispassionate framework for governance of the body politic. As our leaders wallow in vindictiveness and immaturity, it stands tall in the saddle as a simple truth. In a wired world obsessed with all that is digital, it is very low tech. In an epoch of grand narcissism, it does not need to look at itself in the mirror. In a time of self-perceived entitlement and renegade indulgence, it is an icon of consequence. It has more credibility than the White House and Congress combined.
The thing is the fiscal cliff. The term was popularized by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke addressing the House Financial Services Committee early this year. In the absence of a deal between Congress and the White House, it could arrive at midnight on December 31st as a dramatic concoction of tax increases for 2013 of $532 billion and spending cuts of $136 billion, mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011. It would not be a happy New Year for the United States or the world. The effect of this shock upon global credit, equity and currency markets cannot be determined; however, it has been deemed a threat to the weak U.S. economy, with contagion potential beyond that. In early November, the Congressional Budget Office predicted a 0.5 percent decrease GDP if the fiscal cliff is reached, with restoration of modest growth during the second half of 2013.
Not much seems to get the attention of our elected officials in Washington these days. President Obama spent the first two years of his administration with inadequate focus on jobs and high unemployment, preferring to make the unpopular Obamacare his initial legacy and to reset relations with Russia and the Muslim world. With intransigence on both sides of the aisle, Congress has been incapable of reaching agreement on a federal budget, even during the first two years of the Obama presidency when both the House and Senate had Democrat majorities.
Chronic fiscal deficits over $1 trillion for each of the past four years (including the last fiscal year of the Bush administration) have become business as usual. The loss of a triple A rating and warnings from the IMF and foreign governments holding massive U.S. Treasury securities have also not had much effect on U.S. fiscal policy.
But even things can have competition for the attention of those who sit in judgment of the Person of the Year. President Obama might qualify as Person of the Year for his exceptionalism and stunning victory over Mitt Romney, even during a dismal economy and without much of a record to run on. Angela Merkel could be a candidate for her leadership and steadfastness -- while most of Europe has gone economically wobbly and is now in recession. President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt could be in the running for his rise to power during the Arab Spring and his ability to redefine the Middle East balance of power if he remains in office.
No one ever said choosing the Person of the Year was easy. But rarely have just two words, "fiscal cliff," gained so much recognition so quickly by so many.