Liddick: ‘Hope & Change’
Time to revisit “Hope and Change.” We’re witnessing profound and rapid change, and it isn’t what we hoped for. So we better hope that we learn how to cope with it, because if we don’t, we’ll change into Greece. taly at best. Which I hope doesn’t happen, but… We’ve just been given an economic report card, and it’s not all smiley faces. Although our political leadership is feverishly trying to discredit both the action and the source, a major credit-rating bureau has downgraded our sovereign debt. Essentially, we’ve been told that our country is not all that – not any more. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention over the past eight months. Last November, a group of fiscal conservatives was elected in the largest repudiation of Washington, D.C. the nation has seen since 1932. The reaction of entrenched interests, both Left and Right, was to ignore the newcomers, who they viewed as callow, single-interest rubes. When the new arrivals did exactly what they promised they would during negotiations over raising the national debt ceiling, they were labeled “terrorists” by the Left, and told to “get in line” by Republican leadership. Neither response breathes “compromise,” the word now on everyone’s lips. By which, they seem to mean “Let’s keep doing what we’ve been doing and hope the whole thing blows over.” Here’s news: It won’t. It’s understandable that some think it will – our own Sen. Bennet thinks a $14.3 trillion-dollar debt is like a four-cent difference on a dinner tab – but it won’t. The lack of political leadership in the face of this reality is one of the reasons that Standard & Poor now rates our debt the same as Belgium’s.There’s more bad news. We live in a competitive world. We always have, but for the past 60-odd years, we’ve enjoyed an economic buffer that was built up by our parents and grandparents, whose sacrifices bequeathed to us a nation with an industrial base, scientific prowess and infrastructure second to none on Earth. They weren’t afraid to compete; they went nose-to-nose with the most advanced nations on the planet, and came out on top. And they saw nothing wrong with that. Today, that competitive spirit seems to have passed. Everyone who enters gets a prize; “competition” creates too much stress. “Cooperation” is in. It’s a headline when the academics of Colorado students remain mired at the “C+” level – and it’s not a headline that terms the performance scandalously low.Policies and regulations proliferate, slowing innovation and the ability to bring new products to market. Ask Boeing about the National Labor Relations Board, if you want an earful. Being “rich” makes one a target for criticism and confiscation, not praise and emulation. The federal government shifts more and more money from discretionary spending, including funding for forward-looking programs like the National Science Foundation and NASA to entitlements. What’s the result?Foreign students with advanced technical degrees are leaving the US for other countries that offer better opportunities. US Ph.D. holders are increasingly following suit. The number of US students choosing advanced degree programs in the sciences and engineering is declining, mainly in response to restricted opportunities. The chance that major breakthroughs – the “Next Big Thing” – will occur somewhere else is rising. So… what is to be done?Like any twelve-step program, we’ll have to start with an admission that we’ve gone badly wrong. Spending the national patrimony on cell phones for everyone who wants one is not wise use. Not preparing our children for a world that is more competitive than ever is a disservice. Paying people not to work for as long as they might be unemployed, is a disincentive, not a boon. And insisting that everyone get the same level of medical care or retirement payment without means-testing is just crazy.After we’ve identified the problems, we must develop solutions that recognize our limited resources. That means prioritization, and a serious approach to reducing entitlements – 43 percent of the 2011 federal budget can’t be “out of bounds.” It will be messy – but if we want to be taken seriously, we’d better recognize this is the key to success. The political class will not like it, but they should be reminded that ultimately they are the servants here, not the Masters.Finally, we will probably need to find a new national goal, because we seem to work best when challenged. No, not ending poverty; we had a “War on Poverty” already, and poverty won. Perhaps colonizing Mars – a goal equally as improbable as President Kennedy’s promise to send a man to the Moon. We should remember that this nation, alone on Earth, has done that. It’s the sort of people we were. Maybe it’s time we discovered if we still are.Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. Email him at email@example.com
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