The screech owl is back outside the bedroom window tonight. A very, very soothing sound. And I got a note from a friend suggesting that I might want to move to Greece. I presume he read my recent post critical of David Brooks‘s recent commentary on the economy.
I am not really interested in going to Greece. I think I would choose France first. And while I know that owls have an important place in Greek mythology, especially as they are associated with the goddess Athena, I am not sure I would find a place that has a screech owl perched outside my window at night.
So let me make my post about David Brooks clear. I am critical of arguments that don’t fit our contemporary economic system. We exist in a global economy now more than ever. It is an economic system which is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before, too.
Commentators like Brooks — and conservative thinkers generally — act as if old ideas will fit the new world. This is an interesting position to take, by the way, when you take a moment to assess how well conservative economic policies have helped strengthen our global economic position.
Instead I argue that we — through our government — should invest in our future. That’s what government does. It lets us work collectively for a better society, a better future. And here in the United States it has pretty much been that way for the get go. We had the first Gilded Age about 100 years ago that didn’t do much for American society generally, but we got through that and got better. Now we are entering a second Gilded Age of inequality and lost opportunity. It is time to correct that.
I would argue, for example, that a healthy and well-educated citizenry is a valuable public good. Having financial security and education to compete in the new economy will be essential if we are going to compete. If we are going to remain competitive in our traditional economic positions, the American worker will have to settle for standard of living that is not consistent with expectations in this country. Perhaps that’s what we want. Lower standards of living, more inequality, and less opportunity.
But I think most Americans want to see middle class standards of living, more equality, and more opportunity. So we can’t look at guys like Mitt Romney who cannibalize struggling industry, put fragments of it on life support, and outsource the majority overseas as exemplars of good economic practice. That kind of “job creator” we can do without.
Instead we should be defending education, rebuilding our infrastructure, and planning smartly for a more efficient and competitive future. We need new ideas, not badly rehashed ideas that have proven less than adequate in the first place.
The private sector is not doing this. It is investing in countries that have lower costs and less regulation. There…I said it. but we don’t want to be those countries, do we? Look at the social, political, and environmental costs that people in countries like China must bear. Certainly they have a growing middle class, but I would argue that Americans — at least currently — still enjoy more freedom, wealth, and opportunity.
When the private sector cannot provide for the greater common good, government has a role to play. We can all pitch in and reinvest in the tools and systems we need to be better, stronger, and more competitive in the future. I can stay here in the United States with American owls outside my window.
That is my point.