Thomas Friedman, who I usually disagree with but do occasionally find interesting, has this to say in his NYT column:
Contrast that with the Baby Boomer Generation. Our big problems are unfolding incrementally — the decline in U.S. education, competitiveness and infrastructure, as well as oil addiction and climate change. Our generation’s leaders never dare utter the word “sacrifice.” All solutions must be painless. Which drug would you like? A stimulus from Democrats or a tax cut from Republicans? A national energy policy? Too hard. For a decade we sent our best minds not to make computer chips in Silicon Valley but to make poker chips on Wall Street, while telling ourselves we could have the American dream — a home — without saving and investing, for nothing down and nothing to pay for two years. Our leadership message to the world (except for our brave soldiers): “After you.”
So much of today’s debate between the two parties, notes David Rothkopf, a Carnegie Endowment visiting scholar, “is about assigning blame rather than assuming responsibility. It’s a contest to see who can give away more at precisely the time they should be asking more of the American people.”
Rothkopf and I agreed that we would get excited about U.S. politics when our national debate is between Democrats and Republicans who start by acknowledging that we can’t cut deficits without both tax increases and spending cuts — and then debate which ones and when — who acknowledge that we can’t compete unless we demand more of our students — and then debate longer school days versus school years — who acknowledge that bad parents who don’t read to their kids and do indulge them with video games are as responsible for poor test scores as bad teachers — and debate what to do about that.
His argument appeals to me because even though I don’t want to understate the role of government and big business in the world’s problems at large (and the US’s economic decline in particular), I also don’t want to let the populace off the hook. There’s a great deal of blame to be placed on the unwashed masses who took out loans they should have known they wouldn’t be able to pay back, or are protesting policies designed to help them get better health care and repair their roads and improve their schools.
However – what’s the underlying cause of the debt crisis? Certainly Americans buy a lot of crap we don’t need, and on credit too. But consider:
–The decline in real wages in the US
-Obama only proposes to raise taxes on those making over $250,000 a year
-The bailout, at tax payer expense, bailed out the wealthy
–The wealthy routinely avoid paying taxes
-That 23% of the federal budget goes to defense spending (much of which goes to unaccountable private firms)
Who should we be asking to make some sacrifices?