Strong opinions, weakly held

Where America is headed

I’ve read a lot of pre and post-election analysis, and I agree most closely with John Judis on what comes next for America:

Like the depressions of the 1890s and 1930s, this slowdown was also precipitated by the exhaustion of opportunities for economic growth. America’s challenge over the next decade will be to develop new industries that can produce goods and services that can be sold on the world market. The United States has a head start in biotechnology and computer technology, but as the Obama administration recognized, much of the new demand will focus on the development of renewable energy and green technology. As the Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans understand, these kinds of industries require government coordination and subsidies. But the new generation of Republicans rejects this kind of industrial policy. They even oppose Obama’s obviously successful auto bailout.

Instead, when the U.S. finally recovers, it is likely to re-create the older economic structure that got the country in trouble in the first place: dependence on foreign oil to run cars; a bloated and unstable financial sector that primarily feeds upon itself and upon a credit-hungry public; boarded up factories; and huge and growing trade deficits with Asia. These continuing trade deficits, combined with budget deficits, will finally reduce confidence in the dollar to the point where it ceases to be a viable international currency.

The election results will also put an end to the Obama administration’s attempt to reach an international climate accord. It will cripple its ability to adopt domestic limits on carbon emissions. The election could also doom Obama’s one substantial foreign policy achievement—the arms treaty it signed with Russia that still awaits Senate confirmation. In other areas, the Obama administration will be able to act without having to seek Congressional approval. But there is little reason to believe that the class of Republicans will be helpful in formulating a tough policy toward an increasingly arrogant China, extricating America from Afghanistan, and using American leverage to seek a peaceful settlement of Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Why is this going to be happen? Because America is a country that cannot be effectively led. I’m not just referring to the Tea Party here, either. I look at this country and see a majority who are unwilling to grapple with the scope of our problems, much less realistically evaluate potential solutions. I see one political party that is perfectly happy to indulge fantasies about the need for lower taxes and talk vaguely about cutting spending without proposing any spending cuts, and another that worried more over the past two years about positioning itself to minimize its losses rather than going all out to solve our problems when they were in a position to do so.

I’m out of patience for blaming politicians, though. We live in a country with deep problems that portend very bad things for the next generation, and yet voters under 30 didn’t even bother to show up. Old people showed up to vote for cuts to all government spending except the defense budget and the entitlements that benefit them personally, even though that’s the very spending that makes up the bulk of the budget.

We live in times that demand that we rise to the occasion, and yet as a country we are mired in apathy, delusion, and impotent anger. I really wish I could just stand at a distance and laugh.


  1. The demand for green technology will be met by the Chinese! Even when the technology is developed here, the goods are produced overseas. How can the US compete with China when they have no environmental regulations and very low labor costs. Not to mention their currency manipulation practices.

    I’m not so sure the economy will recover at all. The unemployment rate will drop when benefits are no longer extended, leaving many jobless and possibly homeless. But some useless political party will claim success and the stock market will soar. Then the economy will be fully recovered.

  2. “I really wish I could just stand at a distance and laugh.”

    I’m not laughing but spending time outside of the US and looking at the US from outside is surreal (not in a good way, unfortunately.)

  3. Born in 1963, i grew up being taught in school (!) to question authority, and not what to think, but how to think (!). I left malibu, california, for europe in 1993, and with every lived year here, i thank my lucky stars that i live on a continent for adults. Yes, it has it’s problems, we’re only human, after all. Europe faces many similar problems to america, but at least here there is dialog, and most countries have multiple parties. The right-wing conservative trickery and xenophobia is here is well,but most recognize it for what it is: demagogic populist opportunism. I too watch my country of birth from afar with ever increasing tears of sadness, and the desire to be able to just laugh about it, but i can’t. We have forgotten history, and are doomed to repeat it. Were that we had courage, it might be different, but alas, i too tend to the belief that nothing will change until the average citizen is on the street with a trusty pitchfork; unfortunately it will most likely be too late.

    The Founding Fathers not only fought for liberty and justice, they also fought for a sound economy and freedom from the tyranny of big banks:

    “[It was] the poverty caused by the bad influence of the English bankers on the Parliament which has caused in the colonies hatred of the English and . . . the Revolutionary War.” – Benjamin Franklin

    “There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.” – John Adams

    “If the American people ever allow the banks to control issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers occupied”. — Thomas Jefferson

    “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies…The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the Government, to whom it properly belongs.” – Thomas Jefferson

    “The Founding Fathers of this great land had no difficulty whatsoever understanding the agenda of bankers, and they frequently referred to them and their kind as, quote, ‘friends of paper money. They hated the Bank of England, in particular, and felt that even were we successful in winning our independence from England and King George, we could never truly be a nation of freemen, unless we had an honest money system. ” -Peter Kershaw, author of the 1994 booklet “Economic Solutions”

    Our leaders are bought and sold, we are marketed to endlessly, and have become indentured servants with the illusion of personal sovereignty. The American experiment, after just 234 years has nowhere to go but “into that good night” of fascism, and the signs are everywhere that it has already arrived: we see in black in white, not even shades of grey are perceptible to us anymore, let alone the wonder of color. When the citizenry finally wakes up and sees RED, it will be too late for them to save themselves, and America will have already passed the point of return. A destination that our founding fathers tried to save us from. How the time flies, and how quickly we forget.

    I too wish i could watch from a distance and laugh.

  4. My soul tears inside whenever I hear a right-winger say the government spends too much, because they’re not talking about the 54% of the budget that goes to defense, or the 20% that goes to Medicare/Medicade, or the 18% that goes to Social Security.

    No, they’re talking about the 8% that goes to everything else, like insuring our drinking water doesn’t have too much mercury in it, or that we can, you know, educate our children, or even to prevent our highways from all looking like they’re made of slate, like in Louisiana.

  5. The truth, though, is that most Republican voters aren’t for cutting spending on those things either. If you sit them down and ask them, “Should we spend less on clean water?” They’ll say no. And you can go down just about any list of spending and ask the same questions and a majority (often a large majority) will be against cutting spending on those things. That’s why “cut spending” is such a pernicious political slogan. It’s dishonest. The question is what people want the government to stop providing.

  6. I suspect a lot of the press to cut spending comes from the ridiculously large amounts of money that get tossed around, without knowing the context of where that ridiculously large sum of money fits in with everything else.

    It’s easy to declare “too much” in the abstract. But hey, Democrats didn’t (successfully) make the case of where TARP and the stimulus fit into the broader context of the Federal budget. More broadly, what things cost and the services government at all levels provides has for far too long been disconnected from what people pay in taxes and fees.

    It’s always easy to declare that a project in another part of the country is clearly pork-barrel spending. See Bobby Jindal’s crack about an Alaskan volcano observatory.

    I suspect if we had better transparency on federal programs and better explanations about why things cost what we do, at least some of this “too damn much money” anger could be assuaged. Certainly not everyone. There are people who would honestly like nothing better than to have the legal structure and tax burden of the Old West.

    There is wasteful spending in government, but it’s precisely in the areas that most people are scared to touch. Medicare and defense spending key among them. Which Congressman is going to say his district shouldn’t be involved in a defense contract because the program itself is wasteful. That’s one of the reasons I have the regard I do for SecDef Gates, his willingness to shutdown unneeded programs.

  7. The multi-decadal effort to discredit the proven economic technology of Keynesianism and replace it with the completely speculative and unproven economics of “small government” and tax cuts has worked out great.

    Why people think that the latter is somehow “traditional” or the norm is beyond me. Massive government intervention into the industrial economy has been the norm for all industrial countries for centuries.

  8. It’s funny, I see the TEA Party folks as the only ones that are willing to address the problems. Guys like Rand Paul and his dad Ron Paul. Guys like BJ Lawson. Politicans that want to bring our troops home and cut military spending. Guys that are willing to tackle SS and raise the retirement age and/or means test it. Guys that are willing to make cuts to get our $14 trillion debt under control.

    Of course, when push comes to shove, Dems vote their party and elect an ass like David Price who continues to fund the wars in the middle east, who thinks the SS is ok and the trust fund contains something of value (other than a promise to raise taxes or take on new debt), a guy who thinks we should cut spending but not in anything important to his district because that would not get him re-elected.

    The Republicans are at least trying to clean house with the TEA Party, even if it does result in some piss poor candidates like O’Donnell or Angel, at least they are trying. What are the Democrats doing? Pretty much nothing that I can tell other than spending more than Bush could imagine in his wettest dream. Heck, they are even tripling down in Afghanistan after being anti-war up until Obama was sworn in. WTF is up with that?

    Politics is so screwed up in this country that the Dems and Repubs just flip flopped on every major issue after the ’08 election. Ds went from fiscal conservatives to spend thrifts, and Rs vice versa. Ds went from anti-war to escalating things in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Rs are now the anti-war party.

    It’s time for a third party, if only there were one out there that was fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Dangit! I sure wish there was one.

  9. Couldn’t agree more with you on the war stuff, Jeff. It’s been disappointing to me. Unfortunately, the list of Republicans who are against perpetuating and expanding the wars we’re in begins and ends with your list. Can’t vote for Republicans on those grounds.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on spending. Most of the deficits in the Obama administration are attributable to reduced government revenue because of the recession. The Democrats passed a stimulus bill (half of which went to tax cuts, remember) that was obviously new spending, but you have to search pretty far and wide to find economists who are against government intervention to soften the blow of a recession. America’s long term fiscal problems are attributable mainly to health care costs, and even your buddy Rand Paul ran ads attacking Democrats for cutting Medicare. So, you can’t vote for Republicans to restore fiscal sanity, either.

    The Tea Party is fake when it comes to cutting spending. There are some politicians who are not, but as a movement, the Tea Party, for the most part, is not in favor of actual cuts.

    As you point out, no third parties are viable in this country.

    So you can vote for Democrats, who suck, or Republicans, who aren’t even engaging with reality. I vote for the Democrats, with full knowledge of their weaknesses.

  10. Rafe, I have the same opinion on the parties just with the names flipped. To be honest, at least some Republicans and TEA partiers are willing to try and tackle spending. All I see from the Democrats is either a head in the sand attitude or a desire to expand spending to the levels seen in Europe. We are currently seeing the slow motion financial collapse of a number of european states, the reduction of their safety nets and harsh austerity measures. Why the Democrats seem to be moving in that direction is beyond me.

    I always find it comforting that you and I (more often than not) at least agree on the problems facing out country even if we seldom agree on the solutions. 🙂

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