The question that serious people should be asking themselves now is, how did the US get to a situation where our elected officials cannot agree on what problems face America? Republicans are stuck on the theme of cutting taxes (with a clear view that there are massive budget deficits as far as one can see) combined with deep cuts in government spending (oh, yes the largest expenditure, defense, is off the table). Democrats see many injustices (like the increasing spread between the rich and poor, or availability of health care, or regulations that protect workers retirement funds), propose solutions, yet look the other way on rectifying the budget deficits.
One is left with the distinct feeling that both parties have something else in mind than preparing the US to compete successfully in the 21st century global economy.
Cynically, the explanation is straight forward. Our elected officials’ first and foremost priority is to get elected and return as much government spending as possible to those who will share some part of that money with the official. This takes on all forms, ranging from campaign contributions to awarding contracts to businesses that in turn will obtain supplier services from designated companies (like cement contractors or law firms) which have direct ties to the official).
But that may be too simplistic an answer. (It is for sure true and happens routinely but there may be a more basic explanation).
I would look to large sources of money. (Surprise, surprise). More specifically, I would look to people who want to maintain their current financial wealth advantage. These people fund “thinkers” who in turn construct more sophisticated arguments on what is the best path forward.
One side believes future success will result from private sector leadership. Its enemy is a large and influential government. The other side believes also in private sector leadership but believes by feeding money to the poor and middle class, they can better control the government and the future through their preferred legislation. This has lead to an amazing conundrum.
The “less government” private sector leadership wants to “stave the beast”, that is cut off funding for the government (through reduced taxes) and by the consequences, reduce the size and influence of government. The “more government” private sector leadership wants use the power of government (that means larger and more expansive government) to stay ahead of economic problems.
Both of these positions fail to recognize the nature of global markets, nor the profound environmental impact that will result as these poorer nations become wealthier. It is idiotic to assume private businesses will make decision that are best for America if those choices do not maximize their profits. Just as idiotic is the idea that we can continue to support or expand social programs for ever. There simply is not enough money to go around.
So, how did we get here?
We stopped talking to each other about what the problems really were (with data). We have assumed that America (who won WWI and WWII) would continue, as if divinely ordained, and would continue as a leader forever.
Our ship is sinking. We can watch it go down. Trust me, the rich are on the top decks and will be the last to go under. Or, we can begin to insist on a clearer definition of what ails America and what steps specifically are necessary to bring these issues under control.
The political discussion needs to go to listening and asking questions to better understand. Actions needs to emerge with rationales and metrics to monitor solutions. Key to this will be complete transparency on all political speech (who’s paying for the ad or research).
Politicians who will not follow this path should be singled out and not renominated, and if nominated should not be elected.
There is undoubtably a necessary tension between big government and small, and high taxes and low. But if no one is listening and no one is proposing logical steps forward, why should we expect good results?