Posts Tagged ‘LONG VIEW’
Like those old Miller beer ads arguing the preeminence of “Great Taste!” vs “Less Filling!”, the voting public will again be caught between opposing sides of “Cut Spending!” vs “Raise Revenues!”
For some these phrases (and their variations) may be empty political rhetoric, pulled out of drawers of talking points, representing little of ideological substance. To many they reflect their fundamental understanding of the differences between our political choices at the national level. Fiscally responsible against spendthrift, caring versus callous.
In general though, politicians, pundits and other public intellectuals don’t want to be particularly clear about their intentions in this debate. “Spending cuts” can sound like cuts to a program that will help me or hurt people I care about. “Raising revenues” can sound like just more taxes and money out of my pocket. Then to be fair, I must admit that the discussion is rarely as blunt as “Spending vs Revenues”. It is couched many ways. Cuts are re-named “elimination of redundant programs” or “controlling costs”; increased taxes are presented as “revenue enhancements” or “reducing tax expenditures” (basically eliminating deductions).
However it is phrased though, this debate (along with others) will once again heat up as we draw ever closer to the November election. Thus I felt this was a good time to take a look at the history behind these two opposing views and more particularly the most recently favored semantics in the discussion, the touted “balanced approach“.
This strategy, simultaneous implementation of spending cuts and revenue increases in some combination, has been promoted widely during our most recent national budget debates. President Obama, the co-chairs of his blue ribbon deficit reduction committee Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, billionaire financier Warren Buffett and innumerable others have all been heard echoing a refrain supporting a “balanced approach”.
It certainly appeals to our innate sense of fairness. It rings with the sound of admirable compromise. As mentioned we know where each side stands reflexively at the national level, so when Democrats take up the banner of “balance”, when they agree to cut spending in return for some revenue increases, this can only appear as well intentioned negotiation.
Now before going any further, let me state what this article is NOT about. I am not going to address what we spend our money on. I would like to simply laser in on how we handle the financials in our government bodies, particularly the example of our federal government. We don’t need to address the specifics of priorities or of this or that program decision in order to come to a general agreement that our nation is currently on an unsustainable fiscal track.
We cannot continue to overspend our national government income by over 40% (Source: CBO estimate, FY 2012) year after year after year. In the long run (probably more like the medium run at this point) it is utterly unsustainable and we see examples of the political and economic consequences of ignoring this reality when we look to the current situations of Greece and others.
Thus regardless of our opinions on the place of government in our lives, we likely can generally agree that our financial house needs to be put back in order.
The question then becomes, how can we accomplish this? The simple answer brings us back to the ideological divide I described earlier. Do we lower government expenses, increase government income or some combination of the two?
If we take a snap shot of government (all the programs, laws, taxes, spending, etc.) in one moment of time, the combination idea (the “balanced approach”) certainly seems the best. In one moment of time, all choices should appear equal.
It would be like choosing paint for a room in your house. I can paint it yellow or I can paint it blue. There is no objective difference between the two, they both cover the walls just fine and get the room painted. You could paint the entire room blue, or the whole thing yellow, or some mixed use of both. No matter how we choose, the job’s done. Good work.
However, few people would find it reasonable to paint a room without considering the whole house. Generally they wouldn’t make a decision based on just that one room, just one snap shot. They would look at the rest of the rooms in their home, they would think about prior paint picks. They would make the current choice in relation to how it fits in with past choices.
So how do our current financial options (cut, raise, balance) fit into the choices our lawmakers have made in the past?
One straightforward way to consider this is to look at our economy’s total activity relative to our federal government’s total revenues and expenditures over time.
Below I have included the figures for the beginning of each decade since the year 1800 (Source: US Census Bureau, http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/past_years.html).
So what do we see?
Until 1920, with the limited exception of 1865-1875 (Can anyone in the class tell me why?), our tax revenues fluctuated between 1.5% and 3.5% of GDP. Which means, at minimum for the first 150 years of our country’s history, 96.5% of all our national production stayed in the private economy.
Until 1920, with that same exception, expenditures also stayed low, between 1.2 % and 3.0% of GDP. Generally the federal government ran very small deficits or near net zero. Only a few times for wars did the US run significant deficits, and even those debts were effectively paid to zero quickly.
Finally, prior to 1930, we see broad use of both revenue increases AND spending cuts used to manage the Federal budget. Legitimate “balance” in the budget making process at the Federal level.
However, around 1920, several things happened. The modern Federal Reserve system was established, the income tax was constitutionalized and the IRS was created. Further we saw a number of US presidents over the period from 1920-1940 (Wilson, Hoover & Roosevelt) inclined to employ more direct and wide spread governmental activity in the national economy. From the institutional changes enacted by Wilson; to the expansion of regulatory authorities, trade restrictions and activist monetary & fiscal policies of Hoover; to the wholesale interventionism of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” period.
Since then (see above) we have been on an almost non-stop track upward in both revenues AND expenses.
We see annual revenue increases (in proportion of GDP) rising continuously for over 50 years straight, topping out at over 20% of our whole national production.
All that extra money might have been great except that we see also expenses rise for over 60 years straight. When we finally got around to cutting costs we only dropped them down to a level from a couple years prior and then only a few years later, completely wiped out those savings and dropped the most massive spending increase since World War II on top bringing our Federal spending up to almost a quarter of our entire economy.
What has this strategy gotten us? Check out the right hand column… A deficit (and debt) that creeps higher and higher over the decades with only brief respites.
Then after 80 years of creep, around the turn of the millennium, our Washington politicians seem to have finally lost all connection to reality. I would argue that after decades of using over-complicated econometric math to pretend that long-term structural deficits don’t matter, that there was always some “emergency” that had to be tended to before we had to get the fiscal house under control, that we could “grow” (or inflate) our way out of any deficits we posted, that as the world’s newest reserve currency we had a blank check to borrow and spend at “guaranteed” low interest rates, after all of that and more Washington DC seemed to finally feel they could do anything and it wouldn’t damage our economic prospects or endanger our country’s ability to borrow.
So to put a cherry on this cake, the last 10 years, through President Bush and continuing under President Obama, have been a never-ending series of tax cuts and spending increases. From wide spread generational level tax cuts in Bush’s term to “targeted” decreases under Obama. Massive new entitlements, increased foreign aid, Federal stimulus and war spending have occurred under both. All of this left us in 2010 with the most wildly off-kilter federal balance sheet in the history of the country with only 15% revenue covering over 24% in expenses, and a single year deficit which exceeded 9% of total GDP.
So we end up with what looks like two quite different US government “houses” (or at least two distinctly different property managers).
One, for the first 120 years where we balanced our options (a bunch of blue AND a bunch of yellow). A second, where we spent 80 years painting almost every room yellow and then finally just said, “Forget it!” and started ignoring that the “painting” needed to happen at all.
Is it still reasonable for politicians to act as if it is a 50/50 choice between the two colors? That once more painting another of our financial rooms yellow is an equal option to painting the room blue?
After the last 90 years we have a great big yellow house and I’m very tired of yellow. It’s time for some blue, and it is frighteningly disingenuous of those arguing for ever more yellow (whether that is a tax on the “rich”, or a national sales tax, etc.). To act like this is still a choice between equals, that we should still be balancing these options, is to reveal an unacceptable ignorance of history or a willful blindness.
The only choice that would be “balanced” is to start painting with blue again. In our current situation the balanced approach is to start cutting spending.
We have proven we can gather the political will to increase taxes and revenues. We have done it over and over again for the past century. All those increases have gotten us nothing but more spending, not the righting of our financial ship that is so desperately needed.
After 90 years of almost never ending increases on both the tax burden to the US’ citizenry and the blank check spending of Washington DC, it is not “balanced” to come to the American people with hat in hand saying, “Hey, just give us a little more this one last time, we promise we’ll keep it under control this time.”
During President Reagan’s administration the phrase “starving the beast” was popularized with the theory that if we cut revenues, cuts in spending would naturally follow. That if we squeezed down income, it would lead responsible lawmakers and presidents to rein in expenses without us having to fight directly on the spending front, without having to stand clearly and openly on the side of, “Cut spending.” But what we’ve seen is, no, they’ll just keep on keepin’ on, with no regard for fiscal sanity (“they” on both sides of the political aisle). And thus the debate must now be direct, clear and straight forward.
NO NEW SPENDING and we must cut back on what we are already doing.
This year our government is on track to take 17% out of our entire economy in various tax collections and they are going to spend the equivalent of 20% (Source: Federal Reserve of St Louis). A far cry from the 2.6% they took and 2.5% they spent as recently as 1910.
This has to stop and the debate must be on the spending side.
For my Norquist pals out there, once we have comfortable, sustained surpluses and returned to healthy debt levels, we can discuss our actual tax levels and structure. Alan Greenspan argued for this in 2000 during the debates over the Bush era tax cuts. Friedman, Hayek and many other economists over time have also agreed that healthy debt levels come before cuts in government revenue sources.
I don’t believe this can happen overnight. A car stopping suddenly is called a “crash” for a reason, but we do need to solidly and steadily start applying the brakes on what has become an out of control federal intrusion into our wallets and lives. In the end, while you don’t want to slam on them and send your self into a skid, that wall is ahead and you do only have so far to get yourself stopped before that brick and mortar is going to do it for you. If you’ve ever been in an accident you know it’s a whole lot more pleasant to get yourself slowed down and stopped on your own, than letting the back bumper of that guy in front of you do it.
I also don’t believe that deficits and debt are necessarily a bad thing. Alexander Hamilton, our first Federal treasury secretary and one of our nation’s founders, argued that national debt is the key to trade and the global economy. He asked why foreign companies would engage in credit transactions with new American corporations? He argued that national debt and lending of some amount was the starting point of all credit and foreign trade. That the “full faith and credit” should stand behind our economic system and we should prove that by engaging in government debt activities.
Our government debts and lending with other nations and creditors create the baseline connections on which our corporations can build. They create the meaningful, enforceable ties with others outside our country that allow foreign nations and countries to believe we will hold our citizens and their companies to account for their activities on the world stage. If we don’t hold our own citizens to account in their contractual dealings outside our nation’s borders then those other entities may feel they don’t have to honor the contracts they have signed with our Federal government.
In our lives we are often faced with situations like renting our first apartment, buying our first car, taking out our first mortgage or starting a business and needing a loan. Sometimes the only way to have these transactions approved is to add a co-signer (often a parent). The primary borrower (us) is an unknown, untested entity. The lender or potential customer/client has little or nothing on which to base the required trust needed for the requested economic trade.
But a parent has existing relationships and history (bank accounts, loans, business experience, established credit scores, etc.) on which to base decisions. The lender or other creditor, knows that if they have our parent’s guarantee as well as our own, not only will the parent assist in holding us accountable for fulfilling the terms of whatever contract we are trying to enter into, they can also directly hold our parent to account should we end up defaulting on the agreement.
In Hamilton’s calculus the US Federal Government is the initial co-signer for American industry. They get the ball rolling by setting fiscal and monetary policy, establishing a reliable judicial system and making the first financial transactions across national borders in the forms of lending and borrowing.
American industry doesn’t continue to lean on American government once they are established in world markets, just the same as we as individuals do not continue to have our parents co-sign for us once we have our first credit cards, bank accounts, and mortgages. Once we are established with our own credit and business history we stand on our own, but that first introduction, that first hand hold into credit and trade markets is the catalyst which often allows for everything that follows.
However, in both cases, this crucial first opportunity relies on an underlying assumption.
For us as individuals it assumes that our parents are credit worthy themselves. If they personally are buried with unsustainable debts or have a poor history in their business and credit dealings, their referral for us will be worth less (potentially far less). Possibly it will not be worth enough to earn us that all-important first opportunity.
For our American industries it assumes that the US government is a good bet. And the better the bet the better the terms our companies will receive from the world. The more responsibly our Federal government manages their fiscal house the better their financial “children”, our US corporations, will be treated in the international market.
Some disagree with this, but I believe that we as a nation benefit from a well-established and active credit history the same as a mortgage and credit card can be a benefit to our personal finances. However, just as in our homes, we must diligently protect and manage our fiscal life. For the past 90 years we have been acting as an irresponsible borrower, who takes out money they don’t have, to over spend today, assuming our children will take care of the debts when we’re gone.
I like to think that our first responsibility as parents is to ensure we leave our children better off when we are gone.
Continuing to increase spending, increase taxes, with “balance” nowhere on the horizon, running our country as if politicians can, with a magic word, reverse the basic fundamentals of financial discipline in the REAL (not IMAGINED) world can only lead to our children’s and grandchildren’s futures being saddled with the costs of today. The costs of everything we were happy to buy today but had no interest in paying for.
Whether it is for the taxpayers our children will grow into, or the companies that will employ our children, or the government programs our children will depend on for crucial services (fire, police, roads, etc.), let’s start finding political solutions that will allow us to begin a century of painting with that blue brush. Let’s leave our country in good financial shape, so our kids can just focus on living out the best lives they can imagine and don’t have to spend their precious time and money cleaning up after the mess we left them.
One of my father’s favorite quotes is from Woody Allen. I’ve heard it a couple ways but he always related it as “90% of life is just showing up.”
The older I’ve gotten the more I have come to find this an astoundingly important and fascinating insight. It (rather unexpectedly) says that doing the minimum or close to it is really a big deal in most of life.
In my firm I write insurance contracts for clients. What my client is looking for, and what they will pay me to do, is fill out forms and file them with insurance companies. There is a lot more that we do in addition to this, policy reviews, competitive bidding to ensure the best price, custom marketing, employee services, etc. But at the end of the day, the client (AT MINIMUM) just needs that paperwork done.
The flip side though, is I get NO credit, NO payment, if I fill out the application to 10%, 30%, 50%, etc. If that minimum standard is not met, I get ZERO credit.
For my job, Woody’s adage certainly applies. 90% of what I do is meeting that minimum effort requirement. Everything above that is icing, but anything below that is worth nothing, nada, zip, zilch.
The important lesson here is that 1% effort doesn’t normally give you 1% of the results. It generally gives you 0%.
If I complete 28% of my insurance paperwork, I get $0 in return for my effort.
If a swimmer is 37% as fast as Michael Phelps he gets 0 gold medals for his efforts.
In real life, effort itself is not what counts, it is only effort that meets the standard of whatever you are trying to achieve.
If you climb 64% of the way up Mt. Everest, you just didn’t reach the top.
Heart surgeons don’t stop 91% of the way through your bypass surgery; pat themselves on the back and say, “Great job!” It’s 100% or you are deceased.
This idea of minimum effort and standards of achievement is crucially important in society, work, and family, everything in life in fact. However, it has been under repeated attack for decades, particularly in our schools.
Just two days ago, The Arizona Daily Independent, reported on a new grading policy being implemented for the start of the school year at Pueblo High School in TUSD (read here). From the ADI News Service:
We will not be using zeros for any purpose. If assignments cannot be counted because of plagiarism and/or cheating, please assign a 50 to the assignment rather than a zero which may have been past practice. Any assignments where students have a D or F can and should be ‘do overs.
Though it pains me in the extreme, I am going to ignore for the moment the total moral abrogation of the cheating/plagiarism comments (this is already too long) and focus instead on the general principle of giving credit where no or little work has been completed.
Very simply put, Pueblo High School will now be spotting students 50 points at the beginning of the year and disallowing them to fail.
In response to this article several related interviews with teachers and administrators, including board president Miguel Cuevas, have been held on the Garrett Lewis radio program as well (listen here and here).
While these officials are not necessarily in favor of the new policy (listen to the interviews for more detail), they are at least familiar with the reasoning most often given for the change. The implementers, including the school’s principal Vivi Watt, have stated that they want an F to count the same as an A. They find that it is wrong (or detrimental to the student) that missing, incomplete or poor percentage scores disproportionately affect a student’s overall grade. They want each letter grade to weigh equally.
Basically, if a student puts in 1% effort they want the student to get 1% credit.
As mentioned above though, that simply isn’t the world we live in.
We have for decades already given our students a fairly large margin for error in their studies (30% – 40% depending on the school). However, we have always used systems of grading which still imposed some minimally acceptable standard. Below this you were afforded an F, a 0%, and possibly required to repeat your studies in order to obtain an acceptable performance.
This is an incredibly important lesson for our youth. It is a part of life that they must learn, and for a school in TUSD (and some administrators at the district level) to abandon this teaching is grossly unacceptable and frightening in what it implies about the educational philosophy which underlies school officials.
I have a daughter who is entering 8th grade this year and while I pay attention to most of what she does, and will work on quality and other issues when I can, I have only ever had one absolute school rule.
No missing assignments. Ever. Period. You’re grounded right now if I find you didn’t turn something in.
I don’t know if that seems harsh, but I do know that if at minimum, she just does the work assigned by the teachers she will learn what they are trying to teach. They aren’t pulling assignments out of thin air. Papers, projects, readings, quizzes, tests and everything else are designed by classroom educators to make sure she leaves the class at the end of the semester or year with a basic understanding of the material.
How do I know this? Because I was a terrible student when it came to completing my assignments and it haunted me through high school and through college. I never learned the basic crucial discipline of at least getting the minimum done.
Years after I left high school, my brother was in the first day of English class with one of the best teachers I ever had, Mr. Jones at Catalina Foothills. As my brother relates it, Mr. Jones was working his way through the attendance sheet and as he got to my brother’s name he paused, looked up and said, “Davidson? Are you TAYLOR Davidson’s brother?” He answered, “Yes.” Mr. Jones replied simply, “Smart kid… Never did his homework.”
My experiences taught me the consequences of failing to complete the work and I am now relating that lesson to my daughter as best I can. I want her to know that the first and most important thing is not, how “smart” you are, or what your “potential” is, but whether you showed up, listened and got your work done today.
That is the minimum required in life, but more importantly it is the starting point. It is the jumping off point from where you can then show all the extra-special, super-great things you can do. But with any race, competition, project or journey in life the first thing of importance, the first requirement is to know the correct location of the start line.
Does anyone else feel like our kids are lining up for a 100 meter sprint but we’ve put them on blocks 50 meters behind the true start line?
I hope TUSD will turn around and make sure we start showing our kids where the real starting lines are in this life and stop the incessant drive to push them farther and farther back until none of our students will have any chance at meaningful journeys and significant achievements.
As we start debating the re-authorization of our state’s 1 cent sales tax I would like to pause for a moment and take a slightly closer look at what has been, and will undoubtably be again, one of the oft heard sentiments in these discussions.
You almost certainly have heard some version of it, but Paul Krugman (writing in his recent release A Manifesto For Economic Sense) provides a good example: “There must of course be a medium-term plan for reducing the government deficit. But if this is too front-loaded it can easily be self-defeating by aborting the recovery.”
So more or less, “Yes, we absolutely, positively know we need to get back to (INSERT NORMAL HERE) but certainly not right now.”
Dr. Krugman is certainly and simply an easy target but is an excellent example of those who, over many years, have maintained an incessant drum beat for “emergency measures”. Whether it is stimulatory fiscal and monetary policy, private company bailouts, vast military spending, expanded police powers, environmental regulatory interventions, increased taxes or other“temporary”, “one-time” reactions to current difficulties, there always seems to happen to be another “emergency” on the horizon which will serve to extend the definition of “temporary” and turn “one-time” into repetitive.
My primary issue are the pundits and government officers who prefer to define us in an almost constant state of “crisis” or for whom at least the pendulum seems only to swing in one direction.
They are quick and aggressive to yell “Crisis!” and push interventionist planning and coercion on our economy and society when any dip or bump in the road occurs, but then they work tirelessly to stretch the crisis ad infinitum until, when finally their pleas for emergency efforts fall on deaf ears due to the simple overwhelming weight of contemporary evidence to the contrary… they fall silent (or at least fairly quiet). They never turn the corner, calling for the legislative counter-actions that would bring budgets or regulations or police/military powers back in line with a healthy normative standard. They let their “gains” stand and then wait at the ready for the next “crisis” which they can use to move the line of scrimmage just a bit more in their favor.
This strategic ideology is fairly well summed up by Rahm Emmanuel, Stanford economist Paul Romer and others, who have been quoted in a variety of ways but always with the same basic message, “NEVER let a good crisis go to waste.”
But for how long have we been hearing these Crisis Seekers (and I include many Arizona intellectuals and politicians in this crowd) make the argument, “Well in the long term we have to get this back to normal but in the short term we have to TAKE ACTION”?
I don’t know about anyone else, but it seems we have been living distinctly in the “short term” for at least 35 years now by my count and I’m kinda ready for the more rational, moderate, disciplined actions of the “long term” to take over.
It all reminds me of those ubiquitous bar signs, the ones you see advertising, “FREE BEER TOMORROW!” But we know when we come back the next day the sign still reads, “FREE BEER TOMORROW!”
That kind of double speak is funny at your favorite pub or restaurant but it is a bit disconcerting out of the mouths of those who purport to instruct our electorate on proper economic and government financial policies. Though it might be refreshingly honest for them to hang a “BALANCED BUDGET NEXT YEAR!” sign over the front steps of the US Capitol.
Which brings me back to our upcoming decision on the sales tax. In this article I am not arguing for or against this levy or the purposes to which the money would be directed. What I am suggesting is that, in the upcoming public debate, our politicians and public intellectuals, academics, pundits, newspaper editors, talking heads, et al, be held to account for their definitions of crisis measures and their idea of the temporary short term. When do the great results show up? How is this different from every other tax increase? When do we “get spending under control”? When does a stable, normal arrive?
I find it self evident that politicians just love their emergency powers. They generally bring with them great expansions of both authorities and revenues which many times are never given back after the “emergency” has passed. I would argue that we should be far more paranoid and skeptical in our examinations of these efforts and arguments (too often we let fear and uncertainty rule our collective wisdom), however, is it too much to ask of Arizona voters that we all at least demand to know from our policy makers, “So, specifically, when is this crisis over?”
I think holding our politicians and pundits accountable for acknowledging when we are NOT in crisis, would be a strong step away from the neverending mousewheel of short term, band-aid fixes that we seem to be ever increasingly reliant upon in today’s Arizona specifically and modern America in general.
In 1689 John Locke published Two Treatises of Government. Within those pages he detailed a theory of Natural Rights. Rights which are Man’s from birth, Rights which are not bestowed by government but which are to be secured and protected by governments established by Man. Those Rights he summed up as, “Life, Liberty and Estate”. Our forerunners in the 1st Continental Congress restated these in the Declaration of Colonial Rights as “life, liberty and property”.
These ideas of Natural Rights, Rights “endowed by their Creator”, are the cornerstone of the Declaration we celebrated this week on the Fourth of July.
However, the author of that famous document, Thomas Jefferson, made a curious choice in his final drafting of this letter to King George. He opted for an alternate ending…
“… certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.”
For a long time I saw this as watered down language, flowery rhetoric that had lost the meat of the earlier formulations if Man’s Rights. Man’s Right to be secure in both his person and his legally obtained possessions, his property, are the foundations on which rest all of the remainder of our Freedoms.
As Vladimir Lenin is quoted, “Let them have freedom of speech, how will they print their papers when we own all the presses?” Freedom of association and religion likewise are meaningless if we cannot have a secure place to meet. We see this throughout the world where political opponents, churches and artists have been driven into hiding in countries with laws on the books proclaiming “protection” for freedoms of speech, expression, etc. but NOT securing the rights to own and use property.
Thus it disappointed me that in our first founding document was absent a positive, direct grant of this most important of Natural Rights.
I struggled with this for years, assuming “happiness” was in some way a lower calling, a lesser sentiment, than others that could have filled this prominent place. Happiness? That’s the best Jefferson could do?
But then I looked at my daughter and thought about how great it was watching her grow up (she’s doing so awesome). I looked at my football team and how much fun it was to coach, year after year, in good seasons and bad. I went hiking and looked out over the beautiful Tucson valley from the top of Wasson’s peak. I felt the accomplishment of success as I grew my business, the wonder of life as I dug and planted and nurtured and grew my gardens, the love and companionship I felt as I met and courted and married my wife.
It kind of came on me suddenly a few years ago and I just stood and laughed… I was pursuing my happiness… and that opportunity makes all the difference in the world.
I thank God to live in a country where my life’s work can be the pursuit of happiness.
My and all of our hearts and prayers should go out for those on our Earth who do not yet live in nations which protect this Right and hold tight to cultures which lift up this ideal.
It is not a Right to happiness, but instead that we are each free to pursue what is in our own mind’s eye. To succeed but also to lose, to choose right or left, to reap the rewards of our victories but also pay the costs of our failures.
To me, MY right to pursue MY happiness by MY own means, for better or worse, without interference from my neighbor or my government, is the highest value described and embodied in the founding principles of our nation.
It takes effort, imagination, cooperation and sometimes a little luck doesn’t hurt, but the results of hundreds of millions of people FREE to pursue their dreams as they see them is absolutely and simply awe inspiring.
I hope you ALL had a very happy 4th of July and pray you all find fabulous, fun, productive, enlightening, fulfilling, educational, profitable, engrossing and creative ways of pursuing your happiness in the upcoming year!
Yours Truly, Taylor
By: Taylor Davidson
I will start by saying I do not know Phil Lopes.
However, he made a series of statements this last week (unusual in their clarity as examples) that I would like to address due to their implications regarding the level of discourse and understanding in our fair Pueblo.
In case you are not familiar, Mr. Lopes is a long time Arizona activist, a founding staff member of Pima Community College, a former senior manager at the AZ Dept. of Health, a state legislator and the current coordinator of the Tucson Chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America a “group of left-leaning Democrats, Independents, and Greens who work… for progressive change.” (PDA Tucson website, pdatucson.blogspot.com).
Those roles have placed Mr. Lopes in the group of what, in our city, passes for “Public Intellectuals”. This group primarily includes other political party leaders as well as any number of media personalities, but also has some members of the university and a few participants from the business, religious, non-profit communities and others.
“Public Intellectuals”, as a vocation, can be defined as the entrepreneurial class within any community’s market of ideas. And as with all entrepreneurs they are constantly competing for customers. However, unlike those in the business world aiming for dollars or other measures of growth, entrepreneurs in the political and thought arenas are competing for ears and minds. They count their success not in financial terms but in how many people they can get parroting their beliefs and the level of influence of those who echo their thinking.
So in this vein, on or around Monday an email came out to some compatriots from Mr. Lopes detailing a new idea. Let’s call it “Bank Local!” The basic idea was that he was encouraging friends and neighbors to move their money from their current financial institutions into local credit unions and community banks.
Then lo and behold, what do I hear Wednesday morning? Well it was Tucson City Council member Regina Romero on the radio stating that not only does she want to change the rules of our city parks to allow Occupiers to make campgrounds out of community property but oh, by the way, she’s also proposing the city government, as well as people in general, withdraw their bank accounts from Bank of America and Chase and move to credit unions.
Mr. Lopes, as an entrepreneurial Thinker, had just picked up a client. He had earned his way in the market by moving his opinion into the mouth of an elected representative, a person with political influence and regular public audiences.
We can argue this, but I believe it is axiomatic that this is how the political process works. Thinkers want to be leaders of electorate opinion and politicians can generally be nothing but followers of electorate opinion. This is due to the simple fact that, at election time, they need 50% plus one vote to keep their jobs. They can’t stray too far from the center and make that happen. Thus you are dealing with two separate but symbiotic entities: One with ideas but a need for some political power, the other with some political power but a need for ideas.
This revelation leads to an interesting conclusion. That the public intellectuals in our city, state, nation and world are actually surprisingly more important than we would normally wish to admit.
When we decide on an opinion we generally say to ourselves and others that is well considered and based in the facts, but if we were honest this is really a vain conceit. Most people (particularly our elected officials) just don’t have the time or inclination to formulate fully realized philosophical positions on the extremely wide spectrum of topics we are presented with throughout the weeks and years of our lives. Thus we all operate utilizing a vast number of assumptions and many times we base those assumptions on the position of someone we have chosen as trustworthy. Those Thinkers in our lives about whom we say, “Well I trust Dave. He’s very well read.”
The point of this is not an exhortation for us all to run out and get PhD’s in economics, sociology, ecology, etc. etc. so we are the perfect experts on everything that might confront us. Personally I don’t have time for that and I don’t think anyone really does. I certainly don’t want the people at TEP to take time off from keeping my lights on to finish term papers or the guys at Nimbus to have to slow down production of their Oatmeal Stout while the brewmeister is in class.
Instead we should recognize the futility of that idea and thus the critical importance of those in our lives who serve to fill in where our personal experience and understanding fails us. And thus if these Thinkers are this influential in our personal choices and particularly to the political decision making process (a la Mr. Lopes and Councilwoman Romero), then we should make it a top priority that Tucson has the highest quality of public intellectuals that we can achieve.
So where does Mr. Lopes fall out for our community when we measure his suggestions against this level of importance?
On this example, not well at all.
Our local bank branches (whether a credit union or multi-national) employ local people, our local branches spend money with local vendors who employ other local people, our local branches lend money for other businesses to start and expand, our local branches help bring capital and other resources from around the country and the world to our city to be used in our city.
Instigating a strategy of targeting larger banks for financial damage, if successful, can only shrink the pool of money available for investment in our community and put thousands of local jobs in jeopardy. It is simply foolish and ill-conceived.
But this idea came from the same person who, while on The Buckmaster Show last week describing the panel he had assembled to discuss job creation at a Progressive Democrats membership meeting, touted that they had made sure there was one panelist out of five who had “actually created jobs.” How about 5 out of 5 next time Phil?
Who also in the same segment stated his main push for resurrecting Tucson’s job market revolved around making sure we keep our dollars and spending local. Phil, are you aware that the level of trade with groups outside of a community is a primary determinant of economic prosperity? If keeping everything local is so good, why don’t you do business within ONLY the Lopes household (grow your own food, make your own clothes, generate your own power, etc.)? That would certainly be the pinnacle of the economic strategy you are espousing.
And to come full circle, isn’t it a little ironic to hold a Job Creation Panel one week only to come out the next week supporting a plan to purposefully harm a set of large local employers?
I don’t mean to pick on Representative Lopes, he is just the example at hand and I certainly ask his understanding for anything he may feel I am mistaken about. He is only one of many local talking heads I could have pulled out to start making this point.
The important issue is not in the positional details of one or another pundit. The important issue is when we, as a community, are going to start holding these public Talkers and Idea Peddlers to a higher level, a higher standard, of intellectual integrity and understanding?
When the professional Thinkers of Tucson know that they will be held to account for the objective results and consequences of their ideas we will finally be started on the path to getting Truth in the places where we now just find Ideology.
As many know, effective October 1st AHCCCS (Arizona’s Medicaid program) made dramatic changes to benefits eligibility (we can argue the necessity of these measures but that’s not my purpose with this column). As a result of these changes a friend and client of mine recently received a notification that her two minor children would be losing their coverage and came to me several weeks ago as her agent to discuss options for replacing this insurance.
As recently as a few months ago I would have been able to help her with a policy for her kids that would have cost no more than tens of dollars every month ($40-$50); very reasonable and within reach of a working student and mother as she is.
But no longer.
As a result of provisions in the recent federal healthcare reform none of the insurance companies will offer those Child-Only policies anymore, you now must pay for family coverage including at least one adult. This dramatically changes the pricing, taking it out of reach of exactly those individuals who would benefit most from these coverage options.
I was discouraged when the healthcare act was passed because I knew it was putting politician’s choices between patients and their doctors as well as the companies that work to finance our healthcare needs. But that discouragement has now come home for me at my agency. By the stroke of a pen in Washington DC a client of mine, a hardworking, intelligent, young woman has been denied coverage for her children that she previously could have EASILY obtained and thus has been left on less secure financial footing.
As opposed to what Washington would have you believe, insurance companies are not evil, carriers do not seek out ways to deny claims, agents are not out to steal money from clients. Mistakes are made and health claims are mishandled. Yes. The system is imperfect and needs improvement Yes. But fundamentally people making their own choices about the care they need and companies working to meet those needs is the best system ever devised in history for properly providing medical care.
We must begin to recognize the unintended consequences of our politicians’ mandates and we must see them now while they are clear and not hidden by the fog of time that makes us forget how things worked before they were run by government dictate, arbitrary rules and labyrinthine bureaucracies. If government at all levels had just stayed out of her decisions, not tried to “help”, my friend would have coverage for her two children today.
Federal and state politicians were false with my friend when they imposed AHCCS, a program that they knew was financial unsustainable, and then promised it would be there to care for her kids. At least though, there could have been something for her to fall back on from any one of Arizona’s private health insurers and their policies for children… except that the Rulemakers in Washington said they knew better and killed that option too.
When will our citizenry finally realize that we must keep the things that are most important to us OUT of the hands of politicians instead of willingly laying at their feet our most vital and fundamental needs? Laying them down to the whims, fancies and false promises of those who have no further outlook than, “When’s the next election?”
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