Benjamin Franklin wrote, “…nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” Mark Twain repeated that. But the real author was Englishman Christopher Bullock in 1716. Recent decades have supported Bullock and Franklin (and Twain) with the dictum that the only certainty is change. Look around.

The President of the United States fills each day with uncertainty. Will policy indicated in last night’s tweets be overturned in this morning’s tweets? This afternoon’s? Probably. So how do we as a nation plan for tomorrow?

Last Tuesday, the Federal Reserve sought to counter economic uncertainty. The economy’s tax cut-fueled sugar high is wearing off and our trade war with China continues. The dreaded “R” word (recession) is making the rounds. So the Fed lowered interest rates to 2.00 percent, its second cut of the year. I’m not betting that investors and economists are reassured.

Uncertainty is keeping us in the dark regarding the recent attacks on Saudi oil processing facilities. Directly or indirectly, the finger points to Iran. But where’s the proof? Washington hasn’t been terribly forthcoming. And how to respond? The president wants more information and a sense of direction from Saudi Arabia. Isn’t that turning things inside out? Shouldn’t the Kingdom be getting guidance from the United States? I’m uncertain, although I suspect some American and Saudi leaders have common financial interests.

I’m sure that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the attacks an act of war. But on whom? Will the U.S. place more sanctions on Iran and Iranian leaders? Will we strike limited Iranian military targets? Sit on our hands? Of this, I’m certain: Whatever we prepare to do could change in a heartbeat. That happens in international matters, so let me be more accurate. America’s response may change on a whim (or Fox News editorializing).

The Middle East being a region of great uncertainty, let’s turn to Israel. Last April’s election was so close, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t form a government by assembling a coalition requiring 61 seats (a majority) in the Knesset. A new election took place this past Tuesday. The Blue and White Party, headed by former IDF commander Benny Gantz, seems to have a seat—or two—advantage over Netanyahu’s Likud party. Not yet certain since final results won’t be announced until next week. Who will President Reuven Rivlin charge with forming a new government? Also uncertain.

Uncertainty in Israel can bring grave consequences, as it can in the United States. At the last minute, Netanyahu pledged to annex Israeli settlements in the heart of the West Bank. That would bring one certainty: the impossibility of a two-state solution. But few Israelis—even those who support that position—believe Netanyahu will do what he said. Still, Israel, the Palestinians and the rest of the world remain uncertain about where things will go.

Let’s be honest. People talk about loving adventures. That’s fine for a road trip or getting off a plane overseas and winging the experience. But it doesn’t work well for managing an economy. And it’s particularly dangerous for maintaining peace and stability anywhere in the world, especially in the volatile Middle East.

So I’ll paraphrase Bullock/Franklin/Twain: Nothing is as certain as the danger of uncertainty. Will world leaders take heed? I’m not sure.

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  1. Tracy on September 20, 2019 at 6:57 pm

    I thought it was “nothing is certain but death and tax evasion…”

    Maybe I’m too close to the situation.

    Gut Shabbos.

    • David on September 20, 2019 at 9:27 pm

      Tax evasion, Tracy, or attempted tax evasion? I think the odds may be with the evaders.

    • Ron Eaton on September 20, 2019 at 9:39 pm

      David, The uncertainty is apparent in our private lives also. For thousands of years of human history, as people got older they gained more power and respect and understood the workings of the physical and social worlds better. The old were expected to have knowledge and cunning and they controlled the family’s wealth. They often had judicial power over their children—see last week’s Torah Portion. Modernity’s rapid change in both technology (automobiles,cell phones, computers, and other form of AI) and social norms (intermarriage, rapid demographic changes, social media, sexual freedom, ways of dress and speech, etc) often leaves the old dependent on their children and even grandchildren to explain modern technology and also leaves the old confused and uncomfortable with rapid social change. In one or two generations the age-old pattern of social relationships has been upended. Your Father or Grandfather taught you how to use a slingshot or a bow, but what kid goes to his Grandfather for help with his IPhone?


      • David on September 20, 2019 at 10:24 pm

        Ron, you bring up a great point. The rapid nature of change plays a major role, I believe, in eating away at our nation’s politics. The youth culture has been with us for decades. I find it somewhat disturbing. Fifty year-olds want top look like twenty-somethings. Really? Wisdom isn’t guaranteed with age, but age helps provide the knowledge and perspective required to achieve it. Our obsession with youth and the forms of technology youth most rapidly adapts to and adopts do not serve us all that well.

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