Tuesday, April 27, 2010

American Democracy at a Crossroads

Most people in America are growing increasingly concerned about the direction of the country and, particularly, its political leadership.

When we reflect on the values that made America a great and prosperous nation, we see those principles eroding. Our nation is comprised of a generous and principled people. When helpless European nations were invaded by Hitler’s Germany, the US put the blood of its young men and its balance sheet on the line to save the people from tyranny. The same can be said for South Korea, the Philippines, Eastern European nations of the Soviet block, Kuwait, and others. We have devoted extraordinary funds and effort to help mitigate AIDS and corruption in Africa and rushed to help when disasters struck in Haiti, Indonesia and other places. America is a nation that has sent its young people into struggling parts of the world to help through the Peace Corps.

The democratic principles on which our nation was founded have been an inspiration to freedom seeking people across the planet; to all that search for a better way of life.

At home also, we have been a generous nation, providing a social security benefit for the elderly, healthcare for the poor and public education that affords opportunity for all citizens without regard to their economic, ethnic or gender status.

However America now stands at a crossroads. The principles that made it great are: an independent thinking, self-reliant people; an innovative, entrepreneurial society; a small, efficient government; an absence of bureaucratic obstacles that discourage individual initiative, a value system that rewards and celebrates hard work and achievement…and a tax system that did not transfer wealth from the nation’s most productive individuals and distribute resources to those that rely on society’s generous welfare system.

No nation can be generous that is not prosperous.

Thus, America must return to, and stay true to, those fundamental principles that made our nation prosperous. However, we all see our country increasingly moving away from those principles.

In America it has become politically “fashionable” to demonize business leaders. These are the individuals in a society that create employment, generate national wealth and tax revenues. Yet instead of nurturing business enterprises or supporting their leaders with good public policy… we abuse them. A top business executive that earns as much as a top athlete, a musician or film star…is chastised for it, in spite of the fact that his/her effort does more to generate prosperity in the nations economy. It has become politically popular to take the rewards from those that have worked hard, taken risks, created successful enterprises and redistribute their economic earnings to others with less. Thomas Jefferson once said “Democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not”.

A core issue that will determine our nation’s future lies in its political domain. Historically Americans voted for what they believed to be in the best interest of the nation. As more and more entitlement programs proliferated across the political landscape, Americans began voting more for their self-interest. This pernicious shift in the political process leads a nation down the path where public policy is redirected from the generation of national wealth to the redistribution of it. Ultimately, the “pie” begins to shrink as the creation of output is penalized and the idle in society are rewarded.

Unfortunately, this leads to a less efficient and less competitive economy. We live in an increasingly competitive world. When our government increases the cost of doing business for American companies by supporting unions, increasing the tax burden on investment and business enterprises, adds restrictive bureaucracy & regulation, it makes American companies less competitive…and foreign companies “beat us out” for business, resulting in lost jobs in the US. The insidiously titled “Employee Free Choice Act” (working its way though Congress) is a perverse example of this. It eliminates the secret ballot for union organizing, regressing back to the days when intimidation and coercion were used to form a union shop. It would also put government bureaucrats, not employers, in the loop in determining worker’s pay. It is convoluted thinking to believe that raising worker pay and benefits above market rates through organized labor or legislative initiatives will make them better off. The ephemeral benefits of this soon give way to the ultimate power of competitive displacement by more cost efficient alternatives overseas…and again politicians would complain about the outsourcing of jobs to foreign companies. It is inevitable.

There is another insidious trap that continues to develop. It is an easy political process to borrow from the future to make things better today. The ballooning public debt should concern all Americans. The US government is pursuing a profligate spending binge and an extraordinary expansion of (unfunded) entitlement programs. It seems that our political leaders and voters are all too happy to “party today” and “kick the can down the road” for future generations to deal with. The absence of a prescient perspective of where this leads us and the courage to do the right thing in the face of adversity reflects the temerity of human behavior. The challenge here is aggravated by the high degree of economic illiteracy in our society.

No nation, business or family can spend its way to prosperity.

We, the American voters, now stand at the crossroads. Do we have the backbone, the courage to redirect this great nation back to its core principles… or will we take the easy path and gradually descend into mediocrity? On this small planet no course of events is assured. The bright star that has lifted the hopes of people around the world could one day fade. What would the world be like then?

I cannot help recall the ending of the movie classic “Planet of the Apes” when Charlton Heston, walking down the beach of that strange land comes across the fallen structure of the Stature of Liberty and realizes the errant history of mankind that has gone before him, he exclaims… “Oh my god, what have we done!”

Let’s not let that happen to our great nation.

1 comment:

  1. "No nation can be generous that is not prosperous..."

    This message speaks loudly to what most Americans feel.

    "Ask not what your country can do for you, Ask what you can do for your country." JFK

    This has to become the focus and commitment of those that chose to lead us.