Tag Archives: economic reform

Big Spender or Economic Reformer?

Originally published on March 5, 2009 at care2.com

 

In the midst of this economic downturn, the president has proposed a budget that gives further definition to his vision for American progress.  In some ways it may not be the best time to propose something new, as many people, shocked by financial insecurity and instability, investment and pension losses, and business and job distress feel the need to hunker down and survive, rather than experiment and take risks.

On the other hand, the government is stirred to take significant steps to repair a major crisis, and while thinking big, there is opportunity to take bold action.  That, I think, can be said of President Obama’s political vision.  The question is, what kind of action is it?

Probably the most sensitive issue at the present time, is the issue of government spending.  Americans are mistrustful of congress’ ability to spend responsibly and are deeply concerned with the deficit.  How should Obama’s grand, if evolving, plan be looked at from this perspective? 

Is he the big-spending liberal, willing to meet any “progressive” goal with tax-payer dollars, giving only secondary consideration to the harm to the economy of tax increases, redistribution of wealth, and deficit spending? 

If we turn to conservatives for an answer, we hear the harsh critique of a socialist redistribution of wealth.

Even moderates, such as David Brooks, find the size and target of the fiscal stimulus legislation and budget proposal too big and too progressive, while expressly embracing parts of the program such as education.

If we ask liberals, they may very well see an increase in public spending on education, health care, and alternative energy that bespeaks progressive values, liberal causes and Democratic agenda.

I disagree.  Mr. Obama is a financial reformer, using public funds as necessary to do what government truly needs to do, but intent on cutting waste, corruption, and mismanagement out of the workings of government?

The main thrust of the vision is still investment in parts of the economy that need repair:  a struggling education system that is needed to produce a work force on which our prosperity will be based; an inefficient health care system that uses too much of our national budget, is a drag on our businesses large and small (unless like Walmart did they force these costs on private individuals and on state tax-payers when private citizens use public resources) and is too expensive for too many to afford; and energy that is imported at great cost to our economy and national security.  These are issues of fundamental importance to our economic prosperity, our business climate, our capitalist system.

Couldn’t we call what Obama is doing long-range economic reform? 

It might even make a good Republican agenda, as they are rooting around for one. 

Let us not quarrel with the targets of public spending as they are, in fact, economically productive and necessary.  Let us not quarrel with the amount of funds because they are realistic and necessary.  Let us organize and fight for the right use of these funds so that every dollar engenders in our children the philanthropic, creative, entrepreneurial and leadership qualities of business and civic leaders like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet and Colin Powell. Let’s make sure our businesses and citizens can afford economical health care benefits, and our citizens receive worthy care, and let us, using the scientific and entrepreneurial genius among us, develop alternative energy or at least efficient energy that is home grown, as clean as is reasonably possible, and marketable to the world.

Is that liberal?  Really?

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Public v. Private: Which part of “of the people, by the people, for the people” don’t you get?

Originally published on February 26, 2009, at care2.com

 

Thomas Jefferson -- photo by chadh, licensed creative commons

Thomas Jefferson -- photo by chadh, licensed creative commons

If it were possible to take a step back from the current focus on the economic crisis with its financial breakdown, housing glut, contracting commerce, growing unemployment, and menacing deficits, we could make out an even broader political picture:  the failure of the me-only private vision of civic life and its replacement by a public-private partnership of sound leadership.

Take the four areas that President Obama has now committed to reform:  finance, education, energy and health care.  In each area, those whose political philosophy is that public vision is necessarily faulty, and private interest is all, have pushed and pulled their version of reform through the Republican Revolution of 1994, talk-radio over-simplification, and anti-government rhetoric.  This is not to say that Republicans, per se, embrace a private-only solution to reform, as they don’t, but many who have sought to gut the government and replace all regulation and public funding with self-interest and free-markets have done so at least masquerading as conservatives.

In the financial arena, faith was placed in the market to regulate itself.  Instead, short-term self-interest led too many to take fatal risks requiring government bailout to protect the larger economy.

In public education, anti-government vision led to stripping schools of resources, spurring many who could afford it to choose private schools with outstanding resources and leaving others to suffer emaciated public education.

Our energy system allowed the market to dictate the most economically efficient energy despite the consequent flow of money to nations who act against our national interests.  Short- and long-term environmental costs associated with self-interested energy choices were shifted to the public from the private sector.

Finally, health care expenditures press business and family budgets and leave many under-served, yet there is resistance to public supervision of the health care system, where industry money influences elections and portrays government action as the problem, despite huge inefficiencies in the current system.

Critics of the new president’s budget and priorities attack the plan as “big government.”  This is nonsense.  Limited regulation, adequate funding for education, and limited macro-management of sectors of the economy with strategic and economic national importance are not big government but good government. Calling spending “socialism” because it increases the budget is pure political rhetoric. We need to balance the budget, but we need education as well.  Good government provides oversight, restricts harmful actions, and promotes positive ones.

There are, of course, inefficiencies in the system.  President Obama has in no way acted to protect and preserve government waste.  Improvements are also part of good government.  But the fact that members of the government, whose philosophy was “hands off,” failed to regulate the financial sector, is hardly an indictment of the ability of Americans to benefit from government of the people, by the people, for the people.  Good public leadership and judgment has tremendous potential, not to take over for private action, but to guide private enterprise to serve democratically determined purposes and to fill the vacuum created in public decision-making by those seeking to gut, rather than reform government.