Monthly Archives: April 2011
Perhaps you have heard about the bombshell dropped by the International Monetary Fund earlier this week? It is a simple statement, really, yet its’ implications will transcend our very way of life. More importantly, the lives of our children and their children will be forever changed.
I am talking about the declaration that the “Age of America” is nearly behind us. The US economy will be overtaken, says the IMF, by the year 2016. That seems to be a few decades sooner than anyone expected. The analysis is based upon a concept known as Purchasing Power Parity. Think of it this way: rather than compare how many dollars one earns, think about it in terms of what those dollars can buy. If you basic lifestyle essentials cost, let’s say, 10 times less in one country than another, than one needs 10 times less money to have achieved parity in lifestyle across borders. That describes the situation in China today.
So what, you say? Let’s begin to look at the ramifications that such a change in global economic leadership might bring. First of all, let’s recall that the official name of this new economic juggernaut is the People’s Republic of China. I grew up knowing it as Communist China or Red China. It was run by Mao Zedung, a despotic leader responsible for more death than Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin combined. He ruled China until 1976. That’s just 35 years ago.
We remember life in America 35 years ago quite vividly. It was the bicentennial celebration year. America was licking its wounds from Vietnam and Watergate and Jimmy Carter was elected President. Richard Nixon, who ironically opened China to Western trade, was in a national exile. We were at the height of the Cold War with conflict in Europe seemingly imminent. The US economy, though afflicted by inflation and high interest rates, still dominated the world. The era of Pax Americana was in full flower. America ruled the waves, dominated culture, was the leader in math and science and technology, research and development. In short, America was a benevolent, though hegemonic power.
There are countless millions of Chinese who remember the days of Mao; whose political futures were shaped by his policies; and who came of age in their shadow.
Now, the US faces a future every bit as bleak as that faced by the British Empire at the end of the Second World War. Great Britain then embraced the welfare state with open arms and watched as its’ world empire and its’ world leadership position dissolved before its’ very eyes into the benevolent, waiting arms of the United States.
That case will not be repeated today. If America’s grasp on world economic and political leadership slips away, it will not fall into benevolent hands. Once they have control of the reigns, The People’s Republic of China will not play nice. We already know that they will not play fair. And the world they will dominate will be the world that we have bequeathed to our children.
Shame on us. We have the means to make the 21st Century an American Century if we have the political will to make our country competitive again. It is a multi-pronged effort lead by two major forces: (1) restoring the economy and (2) controlling our spending. Sounds easy, right? But to listen to the incessant chatter about the social compact that our President keeps espousing and that the political class in Washington regurgitates, we are not making any in progress to heading off this drastic and dramatic rendezvous with destiny, we are simply kicking the can down the road to a post-2012 election environment, counting upon continued gridlock in Washington, taking the personal vilification of noble patriots such who dare to question the status quo of the American welfare state to the level of an art form, and squandering precious time in the pursuit of personal aggrandizement.
The People’s Republic of China can’t sleep: they are too excited about the prospect of taking over the world.
“Something’s burning somewhere. Does anybody care?” These are lyrics from the story-song folk writer, Harry Chapin. Our world is still spinning but it feels as if it is spinning upside down.
A funny thing happened to me on the way to a Tea Party event here in Worcester this week: I was called a racist. If one lives long enough, you are likely to be called a lot of things. Frankly, I am offended. A racist makes value judgments based solely upon irrelevant objective assessment such as the color of someone’s skin or their national origin. Objective logic does not play into the equation, only subjective emotion.
I was called a racist by a bunch of socialists. Now, I am not labeling them; they labeled themselves. There I was, bearing witness to our Constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech and assembly, when a group, some say a mob, of masked protestors invaded our peaceful assembly. I was being verbally assaulted by a group of knuckleheads wearing bandannas over their faces like masked banditos in a John Ford western. They called me a racist. They labeled me because I support Tea Party values.
Is this the face of protest; the face of point/counterpoint? I was not comfortable with the standoff. Visualize this: two opposing viewpoints separated not only by ideology but by four lanes of traffic. A colleague of mine wanted to go over and talk some sense into them; to try and convince them that we were righteous. I admit I was leery. I did not think we could make any headway with avowed socialists, so why bother. My friend was more persistent than I and so we crossed the street.
What I met on the other side was a group of students ranging in age from maybe16 to 25. I introduced myself to Joe and said, “I won’t raise my voice to you and I expect you will do the same.” And so, we talked. It was not much different than talking to my own adult children, really. And when I stripped away the rhetoric, I found a child who was as frightened about their future as was I.
It is an old adage that one need not hunt squirrels with a shotgun. That was what it was like to discuss tax burdens with someone who has never held a real job or owned property or had to worry about the future of their children. But Joe was not without his dreams; he was simply without options and without optimism that someone such as himself could live a life with opportunity. Joe said he had often heard Tea Party people talk about loosing freedoms and asked me to describe one freedom that we had lost. I told him that we- he- was in danger of losing one of the greatest freedoms of all: his freedom of choice; his freedom to have options. He heard me and seemed to seriously consider what I had said.
Harry Chapins’ lyrics went on to say:
“I shook his hand in the scene that made America famous; and he smiled from the heart that made America great. I spent the rest of that night in the home of a man that we’d never known before. It’s funny, when you get that close, it’s kind of hard to hate.”
Labels are a coward’s way out. Each of us is unique in our own personal circumstance and in our outlook. I chose to believe that. I also choose to believe that the majority of Americans, a vast majority, want similar things, for our children and for our country. We need fewer labels and less demagoguery. When we strip away the rhetoric, we will be left with the facts. We can and must do the right thing. I believe that we can.
I remember that great scene in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” when the two outlaws were forced to jump off a cliff into a raging river below. A fearful Sundance said to Butch, “I can’t swim.” To which Butch replied, “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.” I can’t help think that there is some similarity to any elixir one has to offer to fix the budget deficit. Face the armed posse or jump off a cliff. Some choice.
For now, it is time to turn the page. The last act of a dysfunctional and dishonest 111th Congress is now behind us. The Fiscal Year 2011 budget is finally put to rest, passed halfway through the year that officially started on October 1, 2010. Amid the cacophony of protestations proclaiming the end of the progressive era, a modest reduction to the annual increase was taken. In fact, the actual budget cutting was quite minor. Much of the so-called savings were portions of budgets that were not ever going to be spent.
What the debate did do, however, was set the stage for the 2012 budget showdown to come. And what a battle that is shaping up to be.
The 800 pound gorilla in the room is clearly the issue of reckless deficit spending and its’ concomitant affect on the national debt. There are only so many levers to pull and buttons to push in working towards balancing a budget. We know that the lion’s share of the budget is contained in a handful of program areas. On the entitlement side is Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. We all know that these are the third rail in politics. We can’t touch the interest on the national debt; we have to pay that. That leaves National Defense as the largest remaining non-entitlement program available.
The remaining budget items make up about 12% of the budget. And that was where a lot of the hullaballoo was focused last week. The Republicans picked a legitimate budget fight but the Democrats were successful in focusing the attention on the draconian cuts to the increases in spending. The debate on social issues was a distraction to the main intent of cutting spending. In the end, the Republicans seemed to win on paper but maybe the Dems got the best of them: actual spending reduction was far less than the advertised $38.5 billion dollars. And with an increase in Defense spending, the net reduction to the 2011 budget was only $353 million over 2010 levels. All in all, we will have a $1.6 trillion deficit this year. All of the hand wringing got us nowhere.
Two things must be tackled simultaneously. Reducing spending is obvious but reducing spending without growing the economy is like death by a thousand cuts. If a rising tide floats all boats, so will a strong economy with real job growth provide the oxygen to fuel the recovery, end this blasted employment recession and restore confidence in an American Century.
So, let the 2012 budget battle begin. Everything is on the table and I mean everything. Every proposal in life is a beginning of a dialog. Government proposals are no different (except maybe that pesky Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that gave us ObamaCare). The Republican budget proposal offered by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin takes aim at all of the sacred cows in the budget. You may not like it. Those who are seniors and those who intend to become seniors may not like it. Special interests who benefit from tax incentives may not like it. The Pentagon may not like it. Everyone’s ox may get gored but in the words of one notable patriot named Franklin: “If we don’t all hang together, then surely, we shall all hang separately.”
I challenge the parties in Washington to put country first, not special interest. I am not optimistic that fiscal reform will make much progress prior to the Presidential election but the stakes in this game are incredibly high. This is not a game the nation can afford to lose.