17 August 2011: Economic woes can be saved by doing

Economic woes can be solved by doing

“Don’t tell me what you’ll try,” I’d tell my students paraphrasing Yoda’s admonition to Luke, “only that which you will do.”

Doing nothing leads to demise, decline, and death, and that is the most damning accusation against American corporations and those who insist government do nothing to help create jobs to turn our struggling economy around.

To paraphrase Bill Clinton, “It’s not the national debt, stupid, but the sputtering economy.”

Sitting on $2 trillion in cash, Wall St. seems content not doing what their reduced tax rates are supposed to get them to do: create jobs.

Despite our economic woes, we’re not a poor nation; the problem is the wealth concentrated in the hands of one to five percent of the population, the same proportion as it is in what are pejoratively called “banana republics.”

We are, however, an unjust society that subscribes in biblical proportions to a failed economic theory—unbridled capitalism—which, having become risk averse, works to undercut and stifle free-enterprise and entrepreneurialism.

Back in the spring, Newsweek in a feature titled “The beached white male” told of three white, forty-plus, white-collar men in search of jobs. With the system stacked against them—45 being the new 65 for “older workers”—due to their aging, only one was finding success. It was his passion for start-ups, getting new business ventures off the ground, and his indomitable entrepreneurial spirit that separated him from the pack.

In developed societies, libertarianism and socialism offer two extremes in terms of the roles of the person in a democratic society with neither providing a satisfactory answer. While we are individuals, we are also communitarians, the reason we managed to survive and grow from when we descended from the trees to hunt and gather food.

As a species, our purpose is to create, to be doers, and that is what that 20 percent of Americans un- or underemployed want: to do, to work, to create.

Debt is the albatross that not only weighs individuals down, but also enslaves and dehumanizes by causing the person to be beholden to masters: those holding his/her debt.

That’s true at the level of the individual and the nation.

In a series of columns in the NY Times, Tom Friedman offers a lucid approach for growing us out of this economic mess. It includes restructuring and/or forgiving consumer, business, and government debt and launching a new wave of entrepreneurial spirit.

“Our challenge now, therefore, is to deleverage the economy as fast as possible, while, at the same time, getting back to investing as much as possible in our real pillars of growth so our recovery is built on sustainable businesses and real jobs and not just on another round of credit injections.”

Friedman argues our past should be our guide because generations of Americans before us “developed a formula based on five basic pillars: educating the work force up to and beyond whatever technology demands; building the world’s best infrastructure; attracting the world’s most dynamic and high-I.Q. immigrants; putting together the best regulations to incentivize risk-taking while curbing recklessness; and funding research to push out the boundaries of science.”

Friedman holds that anyone that takes entitlement reform or tax increases off the table doesn’t “have a plan for sustaining American greatness and passing on the American dream to the next generation.” In so doing, he indicts the Tea Party, which he calls the “Hezbollah faction” of the Republican Party.

It “lacks in any aspiration for American greatness; dominated by the narrowest visions for our country; and ignorant of the fact that it was not tax cuts that made America great but our unique public-private partnerships across the generations.”

This is a time of soul-searching reckoning for America. The question before us: What is our essential character?

Are we about subsidizing those with ostentatious wealth and powerful supra-national corporations, such as the military-industrial complex, Big Ag, and Big Energy, that have a sense of entitlement due amassed great wealth?

Will we, thus, continue to enslave ourselves to a failed economic theory that sings the siren of the myth of the self-made man/woman but ultimately serves to inexorably redistribute wealth upward?

Or will we re-empower the American worker and small business entrepreneurs?

In the end, it’s about doing. And as our history has proven, the most effective method is through private-and-public partnerships like the Apollo Moon Project.

We are, after all a community of Americans, not an assortment of independent individuals in a fight-to-the-death over limited resources. I admit, it’s very un-Randian, but, like Friedman, I aspire to sustain America’s greatness and passing it on to the wee ones.

Note: Due to an editorial error, the last word in last week’s column was changed. The last two sentences should have read, “Consider what Washington would do. My bet is he wouldn’t cave.”

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