August 4, 2011

America's Best Days Are Ahead (Reagan 2.0)

The polls indicate I'm wrong; a recent Rasmussen survey indicates that just 32% of the country thinks America's best days are in the future. That dovetails well with other surveys that indicate less than 20% of Americans feel the country is headed in the right direction. The latter surveying is something I happen to believe myself - the country is indeed headed in the wrong direction. But the best days for the United States of America are still in the future.

Things are daunting. Unemployment is above 9%. Debt is over $14 trillion and destined to rise to $16 trillion in a few years. Business is being crushed by a regulatory environment that is anathema to growth, productivity and domestic hiring. Business taxes are not competitive with other nations either. Without a robust economy everything else is at risk. China is flexing its military and economic muscle attempting to become not only a rival superpower but a bigger superpower. National defense, more needed than ever before with threats not only from China but an increasingly belligerent Russia, and massive regional instability in the Middle East and South Asia, isn't up to par. That's not in terms of dollars, it's in terms of numbers and actual strength.

In the face of economic, military and even social difficulties, how can anyone think America's best days are still in the future? There's a couple of reasons for it. First and most obviously, perception. People in good times tend to think they'll never end, and in bad times they tend to feel the same way. The weight of current circumstances tend to make people's views of things myopic. Another way of looking at that is that while things look bad now, and for the foreseeable future, who can say with certainty what things will look like 25 years from now, let alone in 150 years from now. People during and immediately after the Civil War likely felt that America's best days were behind her. National and international events, geopolitical and/or economic have an ebb and flow. Power shifts back and forth.

The country has an inherent advantage in the assets it possesses compared to every nation on earth. Land - only Russia, Canada and China have more, and not significantly so. The country has an abundance of natural resources available (underutilized as they are in some regards - oil, natural gas, coal). Labor - only China and India have more. But more doesn't necessarily mean more skilled labor. China and India both have hundreds of millions of people with little to no skills useful in industry. Capital - the United States has a GDP roughly three times the size of China, it's nearest rival. Although China is growing rapidly, that growth rate is not sustainable over the long term. Furthermore, capital exists in terms beyond financial capital. Intellectual capital, creativity, innovation and other types of capital are abundant in the United States. These assets put the United States in a unique position of opportunity.

Things undoubtedly need to be done to ensure a bright future for the country. The creeping socialism of the state (or at a minimum creeping bureaucracy) has at every turned dimmed the brightness with which the country shines. The country needs to return to an environment that invites creativity and innovation in all its forms, not one that mandates it under standardized conditions. Further, and perhaps equally importantly, the spirit of the people of the country needs to be reinvigorated. People need to believe the country is still capable of greatness.

If you don't believe it you might as well just shut up shop and let China take over. Giving up didn't happen during the Revolution, during the Civil War, the Great Depression or World War II. It didn't happen during the Cold War or the Iran hostage crisis thanks to Ronald Reagan. Does anyone really believe, as trying as times are right now, that this period is a threat on the scale of any of those other periods or events? They aren't. They are bad, they are headed the wrong way, but it's not an insurmountable situation, or unalterable future. Many conservatives are waiting for Reagan 2.0, but they miss the point. Reagan's underlying message was that we don't need government to solve the problem, we need it to get out of the way. Reagan 2.0 isn't necessary and we don't need to wait for him or her - each one of us is our own Ronald Reagan, and that's what we need to realize, and need to be.

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