It has come to my attention that my political views might be causing you some concern. I’m writing to you now to share my thoughts on this matter, not to change your mind, but to show you why I won’t be changing mine. Perhaps you’ll find this informative, interesting or at least amusing enough to lessen your concern – and maybe you could even share this with your friends.
Where to begin…
The global financial system collapsed in 2008. To say this was a huge catastrophe is an understatement. It was so bad in fact, that it’s still hurting us today, nearly four years later. No one is denying this.
This disaster took a huge portion of our national economy, domestic product, our life savings, retirement accounts, and tax revenues, and simply made it all vanish. Gone. This left millions of people (billions, if you’re counting the rest of the world) struggling day to day, where before we might have had some safety net from savings or other equity to protect us. Countless people and businesses have suffered, and are still suffering right now. No one is denying these facts either.
The massive financial contraction also left federal, state and local governments – entire nations in fact – with almost no money to pay for things they had been paying for before. We know that some of these government expenditures were wasteful, but we also know some programs are essential. We face challenges in cutting programs we don’t need, while preserving those we do. These are all facts no one can deny either.
At this point, four years into the “Great Recession,” most of us are struggling with the same question: Are we making progress, digging ourselves out of the most serious crisis of our lifetimes?
And there’s another question being asked: Could we dig ourselves out of this any faster?
The answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second is unknown.
We are, however, in the middle of another political election cycle. This fact alone seems to require two “sides” to present arguments for, and against, whatever the other guy has done. There appears to be one incumbent group pointing out all the true indicators that show we really are starting to improve. And we have the challengers making many claims that they could do better.
This begs another question: Should we focus our attention on the crisis we’re still in, or on the light that is in fact starting to become visible at the end of the tunnel?
Given the magnitude of this crisis, and the fact that we’re all still living in it, our pain and frustration is understandable. But right now, the worst things anyone could do is ignore the facts simply because their “team” didn’t produce them, or try to apply old political rhetoric to what is an entirely new problem.
Even before this crisis, I think we had all gotten used to the arguments from both sides of the political spectrum, from the two major political parties, telling us that one party’s approach would hurt our future, while the other’s approach ignores the present. In many ways, both sides are right, and both are wrong. It’s perfectly reasonable, and necessary, to continue this argument under normal circumstances – but this isn’t a normal situation we’re in right now, not by a long shot.
This crisis is so severe, it’s almost as if the Earth had been hit by a giant meteor. We are experiencing something so vast in scale that the old political answers often don’t even apply. The entire set of questions has changed. This disaster cannot be solved by only spending, or only by cutting spending. None of the old arguments and ideologies tossed around by the two political parties seems valid anymore.
If anything, this disaster has exposed the failings of both political parties. I think the most accurate, and least offensive way to describe their mistakes, is like this:
- The leadership of the Republican Party has focused far too long on mostly short term issues, and it’s been at the expense of the future.
- The Democratic Party, by contrast, always seems focused on the future, often through rose-colored glasses, and with almost no sense of the present.
For example, we are dealing with many problems today that could have been avoided if the GOP took the time, ten years ago, to start thinking about more than just the next election, earnings report or fiscal quarter. The GOP has also talked about eliminating FEMA, the federal agency which responds to emergencies and disasters and gives aid to wherever it is needed. They say the agency’s $13 Billion budget could be used to pay off some of our national debt. And then, a hurricane strikes. Without FEMA, the states hurt by disaster simply could not rebuild themselves, and the economic and social impacts would ripple across our entire country. Short term gain versus the future.
As for the Democratic Party, for example, it’s one thing to care about education, the environment and other issues; it’s another to be told we have no voice in these matters. Right now, there are agencies and offices of the government imposing their will in areas where they should instead simply educate all of us. Rather than banning plastic bags, educate us about their environmental impacts. Instead of telling small businesses which chairs they must buy their employees, they should educate employers on office health and safety issues. Even if we didn’t question their future vision, we absolutely can see they have no regard for present conditions, the cost of any decision to families and business, or even a basic understanding of the difference between empowering people or negating their power.
So, when either party today promotes policies that only focus on either short term gimmicks, or on visions of some magical future, we all must be suspicious and critical – even of our own political party.
Are you still with me here? Because so far, I’m pretty sure I haven’t said anything too controversial. But now starts the hard part…
The facts are, since 2008, our President has attempted to walk that line between both parties, doing everything possible at the federal level to turn us around from this disaster, with a mix of proposals that actually have been supported by either or both parties at some point – a mix of spending cuts, cutting waste, enabling the private sector, while also using public money to support other efforts. From a “big picture” perspective, this administration has made several strong steps towards recovery. Yes, some programs and ideas have failed or didn’t work as planned, but the fact is, most of them have worked and have benefitted the country.
This isn’t just some liberal fantasy, or made-up opinions, or views based on the same kinds of “facts” that cigarette and chemical companies produced back in the 70’s. These are real facts that can be easily confirmed by the public record, and by numerous rational analysts and unbiased, neutral experts on these topics.
The general consensus among these analysts and experts is that the policies put in place by the current administration are in fact helping bring us out of this financial catastrophe, better than any alternative proposals would have. And they’re also recommending that we continue along this path, rather than change course now.
There is ample evidence now – not just our own recovery efforts, but from all other nations’ responses to this crisis around the world – that proves (1.) government spending and stimulus does play a significant role in more quickly helping to rebuild an economy, grow business, create more jobs, and strengthen the middle class that drives any market economy – and (2.) that budget cutting austerity measures have not only slowed recovery and growth, but risk pushing countries back into a second recession. Again, these are facts.
At the same time, there is the very real and valid fact that government spending, especially when tax revenues have dropped, adds to our debt and deficits. Yes, this is true. But if the experts tell us government must spend and invest to help us get out of this hole, then some debt is going to be part of this process. You cannot implement one part of this solution without the other part.
This is one of those times when even the right choice has a price.
And on the topic of government spending, there’s also another fact that can’t be argued: All governments – ALL of them – collect taxes and spend money to support the needs and demands of their citizens. All governments spend money, and redistribute taxes between higher income earners who require less government help, to those who earn less income but often need more support.
Some people here in the U.S. believe government spending and government programs are socialist. They tell us that government spending will turn us into a socialist country, like all the others in the world.
We already know 100% of all governments spend money. Do you know how many countries are completely socialist, where the government controls every aspect of production and exchange? Four (4).
All the others, including the United States of America, the UK and European Union, and Germany, all balance free markets along with some degree of support for the society.
Our “Social Contract” is not socialist. Our compassion is not communist.
Germany, by the way, is the largest and strongest economy in Europe, and their citizens enjoy some of the highest standards of living, education and social support than almost anywhere else in the world. They are a democratic, capitalist nation – but their economic system is officially designated a “social market economy,” which means social responsibility is built into the economic system, requiring some minimal standard of living while also seeking to improve the general welfare of all citizens. Germany believes in business and profit just like we do, but they also ensure all German citizens enjoy a high standard of living by regulating their business, incomes and wealth distribution. We could learn much from this model – and doing so would cause no injury to our freedom or economic prosperity.
But back to the global financial disaster…
We’ve never been through anything quite like this before. There’s no magical Book of Answers held by any one political party or ideology today. I wish there were. It would make the election time rhetoric easier to interpret and fact-check.
We might not have all the answers, but we can measure what has been done so far. And the data shows we are, in fact, starting to recover.
To say this simple fact does not, in any way whatsoever, imply any ignorance of the fact that we are still in crisis, still hurting, still angry and frustrated. We know we’re hurting – and only those seeking to profit from misery would try to convince you otherwise.
And it’s exactly at times like this that we need to ignore those who are trying to divide us. The right thing to do, is to keep pushing forward in the direction that most of the world’s experts are telling us is actually working.
Again, this is almost like getting hit by a giant meteor. We’re still buried under tons of dirt and rubble, trying to dig ourselves out. Some seem content to sit in the corner shouting “shoulda, woulda, coulda” while refusing to even grab a shovel or any tool that we know can help. Others seem to believe they’re the only ones capable of using a shovel. Both are wrong.
But the important thing is, we’re starting to break through. There is light ahead. The worse thing any politician could possibly do right now, is to deny we’ve made any breakthrough, or to simply complain that if they were given the job, the light would be much brighter now.
Back in 2008, just as now, we are being told there are either two choices: We could cut everything, let everyone fail who can’t get a private loan or credit, cut the school year, send all the cops and firemen home, and let people just fend for themselves. Or we can run up the public debt, put more on the national credit card a bit longer, to pay for programs and efforts to save businesses and jobs.
The real answers have been, and will be much more complex: We can’t continue paying for everything, but we do need to pay for some things. Government has been guilty of spending too much and hurting our economy, but in some situations, government spending can actually help us and protect the economy. Business creates jobs, and Business can also destroy them. Free market forces can solve many problems, but not all of them. Giving people a hand-up is not the same thing as giving anyone a handout.
If we had been struck by a giant meteor, our primary concern would be getting back to as normal a life as possible, as quickly as possible. But while it’s happening, and while we’re still buried under tons of rubble, there’s no possible way anyone could dig fast enough to completely eliminate all the fear, panic or frustration we feel right now.
This frustration is going to be with us for some years still. But history tells us this kind of frustration can turn into panic, and make some people do and say some pretty crazy things.
Saying that we added more jobs to our economy last month, than at any time in the previous 8 months, is not crazy. Saying that last month’s unemployment figure proves the President is a complete failure because it’s 0.1 point higher than the day he took office, is crazy.
I know you’re frustrated, and everyone understands the reasons. No one is denying our debt is too high, that we typically spend too much, that government cannot solve all problems, or that business is struggling to get back to creating jobs. But the worst thing you can do right now is panic.
Regardless of your political party affiliation, the facts are clear: We are breaking through the crisis, digging ourselves out from under the rubble and debris. Most experts agree on this – and I’m inclined to agree with them, instead of any one politician, any political party, or that guy who built the world’s largest residential home for himself and who now complains he might need to fire people who work at his companies if President Obama is re-elected.
All I can say to everyone is, I greatly respect and love you all very much…
But, please, it’s time to shut the hell up and keep digging. We’re almost through the worst of this, and no one is helping anything by making completely unfounded claims about how they could have fixed everything by now.
Also, after the election, if your political representatives continue to refuse to grab a shovel or listen to any known and proven facts – which we can already assume they will – please put your energy into attacking them, rather than those who are actually doing something to help us recover.