Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate will, we can hope, move this Presidential campaign beyond trivia, name calling, and defamation. The American people are hungry for genuine consideration of serious policy choices and are capable of discerning attractive resolutions within the unavoidable complexity. The time for division, demogogic over-simplification, and class warfare should never have arisen; but it is now high time for it to depart.
So, for the first time in a long while, we can hope for a clear set of choices. If the current administration has superior approaches to foreign policy matters, let them bring them to the public floor. If the Republican challengers have more articulate plans for economic growth and rational tax policy, let’s hear them, clearly (if not loudly, thank you!). If candidates have a set of possible solutions to the problems around the long term viability of Social Security and Medicare (see blog post of March 3, 2010), let’s bring them forward for careful consideration. And, in any event, let’s agree that there are problems with these entitlements systems. The most disingenuous position of the Democrats is that everything here is just fine. The demographics/economics of these systems (in the US and almost everwhere else in the world…and especially in some parts of the developing world) are definitely not fine. Either a great inter-generational injustice or a sudden retraction of long-standing promises…or both… is about to be inflicted. Financial professionals have a duty to our fellow citizens, everywhere, to blow the whistle on this!
My sentiments among these choices favor the challengers. I understand, of course, that there are many nuances here and I strongly believe that we should not harness the power of government to any set of social policies…Left or Right. While, on a personal level, I am deeply sympathetic to the “social justice” components of their overall motivations, I see the general thrust of the Left’s economic policies being very seriously flawed: some version of redistribution of income and wealth from the more successful to the less so and a large role for government in economic decision-making. Despite genuine good intentions, this choice repeats the error now on display in most of Europe and seems to ignore the great, failed economic experiment of the 20th century: Soviet Communism, which made everyone under its sway poor. And, while I wince (or worse) at some of the social policy perspectives of the Right, I concur with their general desire for limited government intrusion and for incentives to foster individual economic success and to impose disincentives on failure to exert effort.
The debate, then, should be joined over which is the greater good: reducing disparities in relative wealth or enhancing virtually everyone’s absolute wealth, across generations, despite even greater relative disparity. It’s not a case of “either/or”, but of emphasis. It’s also a matter of understanding and accepting tolerable costs for that desired emphasis. How do we get to what we decide is the greater good? Let’s understand the costs…we’re smartenough to do this; let’s decide, as a society, what costs, and how much of them, we’re willing to bear…we’re fair enough to do this; and let’s agree on the benefits we desire…we’re insightful enough and optimistic enough to accomplish this.
I vote for everyone’s greater absolute wealth… even at the cost of greater disparity in relative wealth. History is on my side. Even the “poorest” people today, almost anywhere on the planet, have much better health, longer life span, greater access to movement and communication, and greater freedom of choice of economic outcomes than the “richest” people of just 100 years ago. Not many well-informed persons of 2012 would trade places with even the wealthiest person of 1912. Maybe it would be fun for a day or a week…but not many would make that permanent switch.
So, America has a now clearer choice this November: do we want to be, in the words of our national anthem, more of “the land of the free and the home of the brave” or instead move further toward being the land of the indebted and entitled and the home of the timid and dependent? We get to choose; we have to choose!