Isn’t the world’s principal problem, or at least that of the developed and democratic world, of which we are a part, the fact that we have allowed our elected representatives to assume as our representatives greater responsibilities than they, or we, can possibly meet given our present financial resources?
Isn’t it the fact that we, along with the other so called developed nations, are no longer able to meet and satisfy the generous commitments we have made during the times of affluence to the material needs and welfare of our citizens?
During those years, that is our “fat” years, when the economy was growing and jobs were more plentiful than they are today, we readily made these now unsustainable commitments. And we did so principally for two reasons, given of course that in those fat years the means of doing so were readily available.
First, wasn’t it obviously the right thing to do? To commit large portions of the country’s financial resources to the old and the infirm, to the young, the disadvantaged and handicapped, to our public servants in their retirement, to public education, to health care, to our armed forces, and what else. Who could deny the rightness of our doing all this and more?
And secondly, our elected representatives who made these commitments clearly knew that by so doing they were also helping themselves, at least as much if not more than their legislation was helping those in need. For the various segments of society that were the beneficiaries of their actions would go on electing them to public office.
So to take the steps to get us into our present situation was as they say, a no-brainer. All along the way to this point in time, throughout it all, Republicans no less than Democrats were happily growing the entitlement portions of federal, state and local budgets, and in doing so thereby transforming us, no less than the politicians in France, Greece, or any number of the 27 nations of the European Union, into a debtor nation, or, what is now almost the same thing, a welfare state.
Now while it may have taken no brains to get us here to get us out, if even possible, will take a lot of brains, brains we probably don’t even have. Up until now the brains of our best economists including a good number of Nobel Prize winners have not agreed among themselves regarding diagnoses or remedies.
In spite of hundreds if not thousands of op ed advice columns mostly written by the economists the economy is still barely growing, unemployment still high, especially among the young, the recession still alive. We can say, however, that we’re not yet in a depression, and for this we might not unjustly give credit to the President and his own team of economists.
But more than brains (on the part of the economists or anyone else) it’s going to take will and courage on the part of our elected representatives. They’re going to have to do what’s difficult, so difficult that it’s just almost never done. They’re going to have to take back a good part of what they and their predecessors gave away in the good years. And, what is probably ever more difficult for them, they’re going to have to cease weighing the impact of whatever they do on the likelihood of their being re-elected to office, and just do it.
Now what are the chances of our elected representatives showing that kind of courage? Probably no more than those of the perennial snowball. Should we therefore abandon them and our country along with them? Well no, I don’t think so. In any case there’s probably no place to go where things are any different, where the courage, and the will to do the right thing, are in place.
But there is this. Even if our representatives won’t change in response to the changed circumstances of the country, change will come and change will be forced upon them. Much as in the past when our leaders did not change but simply were changed by events as they endured the terrible consequences of their lack of will and courage.
Our own history is filled with innumerable instances of this sort of thing, some more costly than others, as, for example, the War between the North and the South, the Great Depression, and any number of other wars, especially those of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, in all of which the country did muddle, or is still muddling through, but only with great accompanying losses of lives and treasure. And much as our present situation, none of these things had to be.