Monthly Archives: January 2013

“At yer service day or night!”

The other day I overheard:  “I started my business without any help from government!”

It was said to underscore the idea that entrepreneural independence is the cornerstone of American greatness and that it carries the legacy of capitalist success despite what they see as the crippling interference of government.

It isnt hard to punch holes in that contention simply by pointing out that government regulations protect your trademark in order to brand your business. Your utilities fall under government supervision to ensure fair practices and give you fair access. Government paved the roads for customers get to your business and government regulations guarantee your right to fair access to broadcast media so that you can promote your business.

I won’t even get into postal delivery or trade agreements to supply your business or the local government that protects your business from vandalism and fire, or the public education you, and probably your employees, received that likely help your business….

The point is, no one starts a business or is successful in business, without the support of American jurisprudence and governance. Nice as it may feel to pat ourselves on the back for success, we had help. All of us.

An even more popular position against government regards it’s programs. The oppositional refrain is that, “the Federal Government can’t do anything right.”  It’s repeated so often that it’s rarely contested anymore.

The ACA enrollment fiasco prompted one of my friends to chime, “Government doesn’t do anything well.”  He’s a conservative/Republican and I wondered what he meant specifically.  Republicans more or less, comprise half of government and the policies and programs that exist were created by Democrats and Republicans alike.  But when half of the people IN government, also HATE government, we can’t be too surprised when there are dysfunctions and inadequacies.

When I defend government I’m not suggesting that there aren’t any failures, commissions, agencies and practices within that need to be reformed, reduced or eliminated and I am as concerned as anyone about wasteful spending that I know exists.

I am as concerned as anyone about government overreach and I pay close attention to violations, or manipulation of constitutional parameters, no matter what party is at the helm. But no rational and effective change will take place until we start having conversations that are truly “fair and balanced.”

The truth is, when it comes to our Federal Government, it isn’t hard to see many aspects that have been conceived and run very well.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, a failure under the previous administration, has been reformed and now wins praise for its response to natural disasters. No private business could wait the long intervals between disasters like FEMA does, or bring relief to entire cities or states.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: This legendary American organization, popularized by the movie Outbreak, isolates and wipes out entire plagues and diseases that strike anywhere in the world. “The CDC,” says Dr. James Le Duc of the World Health Organization “is the only ballgame in town.”

Consumer Product Safety Commission: This government watchdog agency saves thousands of lives and protects millions by screening 15,000 products a year for safety.

Environmental Protection Agency: This agency monitors and controls pollution caused by solid wastes, pesticides, toxic substances, noise, and radiation. It has been in constant conflict with business, because it’s usually cheaper for businesses to just dump pollution than treat it. Modern conservatives try hard to marginalize the EPA, but this agency, created under Nixon, has saved thousands of lives and improved the lives of millions.

Federal Aviation Administration: Whatever its shortcomings (which stem from underfunding), the FAA has made our skies far safer than the free market would make them. The FAA not only controls air traffic for safety, but enforces safety regulations.

G.I. Bill: One of the most successful programs of all time, the G.I Bill sent an entire army of young men to college after World War II. It proved so valuable that the program continues to this day.

Public Education: While there are problems within our curriculum and accountability, an education is granted to every American child and as a result our literacy rate, over the age of 15 is 99%. Federal Government is working hard to improve this vital asset to American life.

Head Start: This legendary program provides pre-schooling, nutritious meals, medical and dental care and other services to young children in their critical developmental years. More than 200 studies have found that it works.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration: A classic example of a long-term research and development program that no business could ever afford. Today we have communications, weather and scientific satellites that have revolutionized our daily lives, all thanks to NASA.

National Parks: This system oversees 369 national parks comprising 83 million acres. It is one of the most effective — not to mention popular — conservation efforts in our nation’s history.

National Weather Service: This agency not only gives you your daily weather reports, but saves the lives and/or livelihoods of pilots, sailors, farmers and those in the paths of destructive storms.

Peace Corps: Created by John F. Kennedy, this program sends 7,000 Americans a year out to developing countries to help them with everything from health care to farming techniques. Even conservatives like it, because the participants provide social, economic and political information to our intelligence agencies.

Police and Criminal Justice System (and the FBI): This may seem obvious, but it’s also one of the best examples that government plays a vital role in society, one that could never be privatized.

Public Libraries: In 1992, America had 15,870 central public libraries and their branches, with nearly 700 million books and serial volumes in circulation. A University of Minnesota/Gallup survey found that 88 percent of all Americans consider public libraries “very important” as an educational support center for students of all ages.

The U.S. Armed Forces: What needs to be said here? Our military is the greatest in the world.

While people may criticize Social Security, the truth is, that by any standard, Social Security is the most successful social program ever enacted in the United States, guaranteeing a measure of security for nearly all workers and families. For over 60% of the elderly, Social Security provides at least half of their total income, and for many, all of it. Without it, the poverty rate would jump from 10% to nearly half of all senior citizens.

If you criticize government, fine, that is reasonable, I am critical, too. But if your argument is based on the presumption that “government can’t run anything well” and that it only impedes entrepreneuralism, then your premise has no credibility and your solutions should be summarily dismissed, as well.

A Challenge

Here’s a challenge.  Be honest.  If this was the early 20th century and we were discussing a proposed 19th Amendment, where would you stand?

Would you be with the MAJORITY of Americans (women included) who opposed granting women the right to vote?  Or would you be a visionary (progressive) in the minority who saw it as a necessary, inevitable and more just extension of the civil liberties granted by our charter of freedom?

I fully expect some modern conservatives to glamorize their perspective in a theoretical debate like this, and they’ll be forgiven for having noble hindsight, but they will have difficulty convincing me that they wouldn’t have followed the conservative status quo that called women’s suffrage “socialist,” an “infringement on the rights of states” (Leser vrs Garnett) and “un-American.”

Sound strangely familiar?

Perhaps, they will try to convince me that those issues are all settled and the conservative of today is dialed into the fairest and most complete applications of justice and freedom for all Americans…but, please consider this, my right leaning friends—is it possible, that maybe, just maybe, it is liberal “militancy” in society’s critical moments that moves the needle toward our advancement?

We can all share credit for our nations great accomplishments, and we must also share responsibility for our shortcomings, but the contentious divide between us is founded on a meaningless premise. That premise being that the “other side” has been nothing but a detriment to our progress.

I embrace the liberal tradition, and history gives me all of the evidence I need to make a strong case for our advancing principles, but I am not so myopic that I can’t see “Liberals Gone Wild” could take us too far, too fast.

While conservatism rests in the nature of people to hold on to what they have, progressivism is predicated on the natural inclination to reach for what we don’t have.

Sonny needed Cher, Lennon needed McCartney, Dole needed Moynihan, Cathodes need Anodes, and Conservatives need Liberals.

The convergence of our ideas is what creates the kinetic energy that moves us forward but also keeps us from becoming capricious.

Now….if we all could hold hands and join in a chorus of Kumbaya, I think we could make some real progress…

Taxes, Deficits, and Debt!

It has become increasingly clear in our national debate concerning THE FISCAL CLIFF (add echo effect) many people do not understand Debt, Deficit Spending, Taxes, and our GNP and these misunderstandings are influencing policy decisions.

It seems that many people are using the concept of “taxes” to mean our national “income” yet, taxes are not. Taxes are the fees that we pay to operate this country. Ideally, taxes and federal spending should be balanced, but reversing a recession requires liquidity from stimulus that can offset that balance until recovery.

Our national “income” is our Gross National Product; what is paid for what we produce. The mistake I’ve heard many times is from people who are looking at our tax revenue and comparing it to our debt and they come away stunned because the two are so far apart. Right leaning news sources then fan that misconception so that people will believe that our tax to debt ratio is so out of whack that it is destroying us. And that it’s all President Obama’s fault.

President Obama, for the record, has been reducing non-military discretionary spending.  Several biased media have cited how Obama has spent more than all Presidents combined but from 2000 to 2008, under President Bush, Federal spending rose by $1.3 trillion, from $1.9 trillion a year to $3.2 trillion a year.  From 2009 to 2011, meanwhile, under President Obama, federal spending has risen by $600 billion, from $3.2 trillion a year to $3.8 trillion a year.

Federal government spending, therefore, under President Bush increased two times as much as it has under President Obama. It has also begun to decline.

Deficit Spending is what people are really talking about in terms of what we bring in with tax revenue compared to what we spend. It is also an interesting political divide. Until it became a Republican talking point to emphasize how “Democrats are spending out of control” it was embraced by GOP policy. None other than Dick Cheney said in 2000, “Deficits don’t matter.”

What he meant was, while balancing that ratio always appears to be a good thing, it can be used, and has, throughout Democratic and Republican administrations to stimulate the economy.

In a recession, for example, there can be nothing worse that limiting liquidity in the market; there has to be money flowing quickly and easily to stimulate spending and production. Government spending, even when it’s more than tax revenue, can reverse a recession trend and that ultimately creates more revenue so that the budget can balance.

Then there’s the 16 trillion pound gorilla; the Debt. Actually it’s $16,355,107,788,897 and counting. That is the money that the United States has borrowed and OWES to creditors.Daunting.

But, how many people know that the United States owns foreign assets totalling $11,500,000,000,000? Some of that ferocious growl goes away.

The overall financial position of the United States includes over $50 trillion of debt owed by US households, businesses, and government, which is more than 3.5 times the annual gross domestic product. However, domestic financial assets total $131 trillion and domestic financial liabilities $106 trillion. Tangible assets total an additional $56 trillion. And so, the net worth of the United States is around $75 trillion or 5.2 times GDP. That still makes us a pretty good investment.

What we need to address is where the money in America is flowing and then begin to create policy to balance that trend. A look at these charts will sober up any idea that wealthy Americans need to be subsidized even more.

Our Gross National Product (our income) is just below 15 trillion dollars annually. When Reagan was President it was around 4 trillion. That’s how much our economy has grown over the past 27 years and naturally our debt and expenditures have grown along with it. But, the United States is producing again and after the start of a serious recession in 2007 we are again showing GNP growth.

Suddenly that daunting debt number isn’t quite as scary. We are 25% of the entire world’s economy and it is in the best interest of every industrialized nation to support the United States economically speaking.

The path to prosperity requires that we understand our terms, that we investigate real numbers and listen to what economists are saying, and that our politicians step up with the guts to tell the truth.


References: Congressional Budget Office; Office of Management and Budget; U.S. Debt; U.S. Dept. of the Treasury.