It is traditional at this time of the year to reflect upon the past and consider what the future holds. After 8 years of darkness, the beginning of 2009 featured hope and expectations of better times ahead. While this is still possible, one must admit there are few signs that better times are just around the corner.
Islamic extremists present what appears to be an interminable threat internationally. Failed States, like Somalia, provide sanctuary for pirates who are highjacking ships as if there were no force to stop them. Domestically, we have a political system totally corrupted by the cost of campaign financing. To add to this ethically devoid political process, special interests such as the NRA, Catholic Church, Trial Lawyers, Unions, and the wide swath of for profit evangelical/fundamentalist Christian churches have decided to place their personal interests above the needs of the Country.
It is conventional wisdom that free enterprise and marketplace economics have been the backbone of American growth and wealth. But one must ask whether the near implosion of Banks and Investment firms through the use of CDOs and CDSs (and the subsequent drop in stock prices and 401K values) were the desired result of free enterprise and marketplace economics. When the day of reckoning arrived and these banks were about to fail, Government had to step in and “bail” them out. No sooner had these firms regained their footing, did they insist upon paying hugh, over the top, salaries and bonuses to executives who had faced no accountability for their past (or future) decisions. What is behind this?
Through most of 2009, unemployment rolls increased monthly. For months pundits blamed the housing bubble. Unfortunately housing is only a small piece of the US economy, but here lies a clue. Housing cannot be outsourced to China or anyplace else. In 2009, the US woke up to the fact that its backbone, manufacturing, had evaporated over the past 20 years. Combining the loss of manufacturing with the loss of ethics, as seen in banking, investment, and Congress, the current US position is engulfed with fog and a course to a brighter future is difficult to see.
I would have described the future as bleak were it just the US that counted. The insular world that American media projects where the white hats are worn by only the US and what is good only can be found here is totally misguided. The good news is that the US is still a wealthy land and global competition is just that. There is an opportunity to wisely invest and compete globally bringing some of the jobs back to the US. Manufacturing jobs need not require a PhD and are far better than paying unemployment benefits. Employed workers pay taxes and do not require government payments thereby helping balance the budget. Investing in education (math, science, engineering, as well as basic manufacturing skills) will pay even greater dividends over the years to come.
The “fuzzy” future comes from the question of whether we have the necessary ethics to help ourselves. Can Congress work for the benefit of Americans or will it stayed tied just to special interests? Will sensible regulations harness the greed of Wall Street? Will religious groups stick to preaching to their flocks and resist trying to influence those who do not belong? Will Americans return to images that manufacturing jobs are good jobs and that the television bunk of fast cars and slick clothes are both not typical or all that they are made out to be? Will Americans remember that most all this can be done on their own without the need for big brother?