Monday, December 28, 2009

Money, Regulation, And Progress

Why is the country in such doldrums? Given the daily crises foisted on us the past year by the Federal government, the answer might seem obvious. But I mean something a little different...

Republicans bear much of the blame for the messes that have been created the past 10 years, to be sure. But when you hear someone express that view, consider who bears how much. Consider the following...

When Democrats took power in Washington at the end of 2006 the deficit was $150 billion, the national debt $8.5 trillion. By the the end of 2008 the deficit had grown to $430 billion; the national debt to $10 trillion.

Now that Democrats control the entire Federal government the deficit at the end of 2009 is $1.5 trillion. The national debt stands at $12 trillion and is scheduled to rise another $2 trillion over the next few years, more if ObamaCare passes.

Those figures are just the debt, not the total budget. To anyone older than 40 the total sums spent or committed appear staggering, incomprehensible. Estimates of the unfunded liability of Social Security, to choose only one example, hover in the $17.5 trillion range. Medicare's unfunded liability is double that. Those figures are beyond the imagination of even the most Cassandra of pundits a generation ago.

That said, the problems we face are not fundamentally political or even financial, and they're not amenable to a purely political or financial solution. While I look forward along with millions of others to "throwing the bums out" come November 2010, just changing the ratio of R's to D's in D.C. won't solve those fundamental problems. Republicans are no strangers to spending other people's money or controlling lives that are none of their business.

Just to highlight one aspect, for example: Why does the Federal government spend so much money? Because whenever you talk about eliminating Social Security or Medicare, there's push back from both sides of the aisle. That's not a political issue, it's a social one, fundamentally of the dominant ethics. Too many have lost or at least watered down the value of self-responsibility, a virtue even in the face of severe adversity.

To glance at another aspect, the money spent is only the most visible rape of productive citizens. The crushing burden of regulations — now about to explode with the EPA set to hobble every business in the country — exacts a much greater toll. Irrational legislation, i.e. almost all of it, eliminates or at least reduces what comes into existence in the first place. What isn't created is never missed by the majority of the populace.

Consider, technical improvements and miniaturization/storage densification continue at a healthy pace — the iPod, digital cameras, and thumb drives come to mind as examples. But, has there been a fundamentally new invention in the past 30 years?

Think of some from the mid-20th century: radio and TV, jets, satellites, and birth control pills. Even the modern computer is now over 60 years old, PCs a full 35. The list could be extended for an entire post. Has anything remotely comparable from the past generation's worth of years come to market?

In a pinch, one could argue that the scanning tunneling microscope squeaks under the cutoff (1981). Genome sequencing technology might qualify, though its value has not yet been realized. Fuel cells (50 year old technology) await commercialization, somehow.

(Before you answer "the Internet," that was a — highly successful — commercialization effort, not a new invention, though I grant that HTML is only 20 years old. Still, the technology for computer networks existed nearly 40 years ago, even in the private sector.)

Anyway, what to do to get things moving again? A big question with a long answer. For now, a teaser of just four words: destroy Dewey, restore Aristotle.

More on that in a future post...


Ted Amadeus said...

With you completely on the "destroy Dewey" part of the equation.
Ever since turning education over to the bureaucrats, graduates have been getting dumber, not smarter, and the drop off is exponential after the peanut farmer "president" took the paddles away from the teachers in 1979, for fear of warping the precious psyches of the little monsters. Now we dope them into docility...
Ever try teaching algebra to a vegetable?

Jeff Perren said...

"Ever try teaching algebra to a vegetable?"

Sadly, yes. I taught freshman physics at two separate universities.

Interestingly, as a tutor in a Vietnamese center I had a good deal more success, but only with the teenage girls. The boys were completely uninterested, and impossible to motivate.