In our weekly column on The Story of Kennett, Joan Holliday and I try very hard to stay away from politics. We don’t want it to get in the way of the story. After graduating from college, I went in the Navy and the three subjects that were taboo at the wardroom table were religion, sex and politics. Then we found that the most successful communities don’t waste time arguing the great red and blue political issues of the day but focus on making the town a safer, more educated, prosperous and better place to live, always trying to reduce poverty.
In addition, the political issues are so complicated and difficult there doesn’t seem to be any solutions that don’t have unintended consequences. So often there are no good solutions, only better ones. Plus, most people’s minds are made up, they only want to hear what reinforces their prejudices. I have found it isn’t what people don’t know that keeps them from understanding the solutions, it is what they think they know that is wrong.
So tackling world peace, global hunger and world peace is like trying to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. There is just a consensus that talking about the nation’s politics today creates more heat than light.
There are a number of really major issues that our society needs to address, and we are talking about many of them; climate change, income inequality, loss of jobs to artificial intelligence and robotics, loss of economic growth, globalization, lack of adequate education and health care.
But there is one issue that I listen for and all I hear is crickets. It is the issue that we rebounded from one of the greatest financial crashes in our history with 11 years of growth. But instead of taking advantage of our prosperity and putting money in the bank for a rainy day we are plunging our country into deeper and deeper debt
I don’t hear anyone talking about the $900 billion dollars of debt we are creating for our children this year. With that debt and the projected future debt our kids will be paying hundreds of billions of dollars in interest each year on the money we are spending. It is just getting worse as we could reach a total of $35 trillion dollars in debt within 10 years. We are spending money like a drunken sailor with little justification.
I know what I’m talking about when it comes to drunken sailors but I will not go into my life as a Shore Patrol officer in Wanchai, Hong Kong. When I got out of the Navy I went to work in Virginia and got to know Henry Howell, a great politician from that Commonwealth. He taught me the political principle – cut the garment to fit the cloth. Which means to use the resources wisely and live within your means. We are not living within our means and we aren’t even close.
When Bill Clinton finished his Presidency at the end of 1999 we were on track to have a surplus each year and now we see trillion-dollar deficits each year for as far as we can see. And that doesn’t take into consideration future recessions.
I understand there are times like WWII that if we didn’t pull out all the stops and convert automobile factories to making tanks we would be speaking German now. But we are spending as much on defense as the next ten countries in the world.
This needs to change.
Our current existential threat is Climate Change and it like the threat from Japan and German doesn’t lend itself to calculations of how much money can we afford to spend to keep our planet habitable. We have to stop polluting the atmosphere. When the oceans are getting hotter and hurricanes stronger, the south west becoming a desert and the coastlines crumbling you don’t do the math of a new scrubber on a coal burning electrical plant.
You move the economy off fossil fuels and on to renewables and you invest in nuclear. You get your arms around melting ice caps, methane production and rising sea levels. You take science seriously and use the technology to address the problem.
I don’t see anyone talking about tax increases or significant cuts to Social Security and Defense spending. I am sure it has a lot to do with the fact that when Clinton did the heavy lifting of balancing the budget in ’94, he lost 60 seats and the majority. Then the next two Republican Presidents made sure they took advantage of their majorities and translated them into tax cuts. Politicians take the Taxpayer Protection Pledge to never raise taxes and there is a consensus that Bush Sr lost his election because he reneged on his pledge of “no new taxes.”
We have a Congress right now that spends but does not tax. On top of this, we had a war after 9/11 that our President says cost 7 trillion dollars. I thinks that is high but I know it is not sustainable and it will end up hurting Kennett because it will destroy the safety net that we will need so badly with the coming changes in technology (Artificial Intelligence and Robots) and a lower growth economy.
You can’t fool mother nature, and we can’t have great government if we won’t develop a sustainable way to pay for it. Politics doesn’t have to be a win/lose sport, we can build this great country together. But we are going to have to listen to each other and build sustainable solutions.