MY TURN: TOM GOERGEN: We Need to Come Together for Change
Many people agree that our country is in desperate need of sound leadership and yet disagree profoundly upon who should lead, and in what direction we should proceed.
We have suffered most since the leading edge of my selfish generation, the baby boomers, came to power in the early '90s.
It is time for a change.
Since January 2001, the national debt has mushroomed from $5.7 trillion to $9.3 trillion. (This is the real mushroom cloud we should have been worrying about instead of the fictional one hysterically touted as potentially emanating from Saddam's non-existent WMD.)
Almost 40 percent of the debt amassed over the entire history of our country was piled up in just the past seven years! For what? Have we been making an investment from which we can expect a significant future return? Or have we been pouring money down a rathole and running up a tab for our grandchildren?
Our infrastructure is crumbling, bridges collapsing, schools are failing our children, the increasing cost of medical care is fast outstripping the meager rise in middle class wages. Forty-seven million people now lack medical insurance.
Cities are as vulnerable as New Orleans to the incompetence or indifference of our federal government in responding to future crises. Yet we have made woefully inadequate progress to date in protecting our vital chemical, nuclear, port and other facilities from terrorist attack.
The annual trade deficit in goods is over $800 billion. (At this rate, a family of four generates over $10,000 more in purchases of foreign goods than their productive activities create for export -- resulting in many lost jobs and downward pressure on working class wages.)
What can we possibly be thinking, allowing such imbalances to persist and grow when the average hourly wage for production workers in China has been estimated at 53 cents, compared to $15 in the U.S.A.? When the average foreign consumer lacks the income, the access to credit and the cultural propensity to consume of the American consumer? Are we really seeking international wage parity? Would this be a good thing for anyone?
If the American consumer loses the ability to purchase an oversize proportion of the world's exports, the global economy will suffer a terminal case of pneumonia.
A barrel of oil (each barrel contains 42 gallons), was $32.14 when George W. Bush took office. As of April 24, it was $117.16.
Oil has nearly doubled in the past year, and yet we still have not embarked on the equivalent of an Apollo program to develop environmentally safe alternative sources of energy. Why isn't the government making record investments in solar, wind, hydroelectric and carbon sequestration as well as fuel efficiency and conservation?
The folks who continually cry for tax cuts have a responsibility to tell us what expenditures they are willing to cut in order to provide a balanced budget. Otherwise, they are simply freeloaders, stealing the future from our grandchildren.
Ronald Reagan, according to his budget director, David Stockman, had little desire to make major cuts in programs that served the truly needy. The interest on the national debt last year was $430 billion. We cannot cut that without major financial meltdown.
Military-related expenses, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, totaled about $626 billion. Perhaps we could cut corporate welfare, the agriculture budget, education, job training, unemployment, welfare, Medicaid or public health, or maybe not. We all can have different opinions.
Remember, however, those of us fortunate enough to have had good parents, attended decent schools and benefited from all the government services we normally take for granted, have received a lot from our great country. It might be only fair that we give back a little of what was made possible for us.
I think we want a country where proper incentives and opportunity allow our fellow citizens to make the most of their lives and where the burden of caring for those who can't care for themselves is broadly shared and as light as possible. Yet we must care for those that need a hand up. If we let the devil take the hindmost, we must be careful not to fall behind, lest we ourselves meet a horrible fate.
The poor are not poor because they are lazy or immoral. I believe that, had I been born into different circumstance, my life could have been totally different.
Our maladies are not the fault of immigrants or any other scapegoats we might like to find. They are the fault of the man or woman in the mirror. With a little honesty and sacrifice, we can fix them, but not until we come together and stop blaming others.
Instead of focusing on silly trivia, we must come to grips with real issues and collaborate on real answers by making hard choices. We may be the problem but, together, we are the only solution. We must act now. Our grandchildren are counting on us.
Tom Goergen lives in Southern Pines.
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