Note: I don't generally espouse my political views on my blog - but after spending untold hours keeping up with the latest news about our 2012 Presidential election, I feel the need to talk about the important and difficult choices that are ahead for us as Americans. You may be able to figure out which candidate I am supporting by reading what I've written here, but I assure you that this post in no way is written to influence your vote - that's your business.
The United States economy is in quite a pickle. With overwhelming debt and deficits that boggle the mind, the government simply has to find a way to stop hemorrhaging money. Like a family who has fallen on hard times, expenses must be cut back and plans for additional expenditures must be deferred until the financial crisis has passed.
America has been down before - during the Great Depression, a stock market crash of 1929 (with a $40 billion loss to stockholders) was the first event in a domino effect that included bank failures, a decrease in the purchase of American goods (due to low consumer confidence and lack of money to borrow) was coupled with crippling unemployment (which caused a further decrease in the purchasing power of American consumers), as well as a drought that devastated our nation's heartland. These events all sent our nation into a tailspin.
It was a dark time, devoid of hope. President Herbert Hoover did not feel that the government should provide financial assistance to individuals or stimulus funds to businesses to help get them back on their feet. The future seemed pretty grim.
President Franklin Roosevelt had a different outlook - which brought us The New Deal, a wide-sweeping spending plan which consisted of a number of government programs to aid the poverty-stricken and unemployed.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided jobs that focused on our infrastructure. Bridges were built, trails in National parks were created. The CCC not only offered a paycheck - it gave formerly unemployed people a sense of purpose and dignity, and it enabled them to provide for their families.
Of the ten major programs in the New Deal, The Social Security Act is the one that is getting the most attention today. Designed to provide a financial safety net for senior citizens, it was much maligned by naysayers - and much appreciated by recipients.
The United States started to prosper, and then WWII hit, changing the very fabric of lives.
During WWII, all of America (and Europe and Asia) suffered. Millions of lives were lost; family structures forever altered. The landscape in Europe and Asia was fired upon, and the ultimate weapon (the A-bomb) was dropped in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan.
Life as they knew it ceased to exist.
In the United States, citizens pulled together and did what they could to aid in the military's victory. Besides the sacrifice of lives, ordinary citizens faced fuel rationing, they participated in collection drives for metal and rubber (to help the government produce military vehicles), and saved money for war bonds.
I can't say that today's world is in as bad a shape as then, but our worldwide financial crisis leaves currencies on the brink of collapse and governments hard pressed to come up with a viable plan for fiscal recovery.
Our Democratic and Republican Presidential candidates offer two very different approaches to solve our government's financial problems - and I'm not sure either one is satisfactory.
We can't continue to spend our way out of trouble, continuing to borrow money from China and others and amassing more and more debt. Our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren deserve a better fate.
We also can't expect deficits to decrease when the main point of the solution is to reduce taxes across the board without an accompanying plan to increase revenue coming into the government's coffers. It is naive to think that business owners will use the windfall from lower taxes to hire additional workers (whose lower taxes will fill the Federal piggy bank).
I think we need to go back to the idea of shared sacrifice that was adopted in WWII. We must not expect our government to cure all of our ills; and the government must structure the budget to get by on less - the same things our citizens did around the dinner table during WWII.
I think the government does have an obligation to provide a safety net for the elderly, the disabled, and we must provide for our military veterans as a small way of thanking them for their service to our country. But there must be some small sacrifices made here, too - perhaps another increase in the retirement age, or a slight decrease in the level of care provided by Medicare and Medicaid. Medical treatment decisions should be made using an evidence-based system - if a treatment is seen to work for a particular ailment, then it should be available. We must stop the unnecessary lawsuits that make physicians "test happy" to help us keep medical costs down.
Government must become leaner and more efficient; agencies that perform similar services should be consolidated. Waste must be trimmed. Just like families do when a breadwinner loses a job, our national belt must be tightened to get through this financial downturn. Let's build self-reliance instead of a reliance on the Federal government coming to the rescue. As it is now, as yet unborn Americans will have to foot that bill.
This shared sacrifice must certainly include an increase in taxes along with a possible loss of services. This two-pronged approach will increase the amount of impact we can have on money that is needed to operate essential programs and offer services to those who demonstrate the most need. Corporations who have relied on the generosity of the Federal government in the way of subsidies should be prepared to see that cash cow go out to pasture - if corporations are not paying their fair share of income taxes (due to the numerous loopholes in our tax system), they should not be receiving government handouts. Companies that choose to outsource jobs to other countries should not receive additional tax benefits.
We need manufacturing to return to the United States, and we need local businesses to thrive (since they are the biggest employers). If we could muster some pride for a "Made in the USA" label and refuse to purchase imported products (which are not as much of a bargain as they used to be), we could restore pride in America and get people back to work. Companies who had outsourced that decide to return to the US should receive a tax deduction.
Some jobs will not ever return - technology has made some positions obsolete. Students need to focus on getting an education that will allow them to move into the jobs of the future, and schools should make that a priority, instead of being hell-bent on teaching to a standardized test.
I think if we, as Americans, can embrace the model of shared sacrifice that was shown during The Great Depression and WWII, we can weather this storm. We can be the next "Greatest Generation" - and leave our country in good hands for future generations.
We can start today. Shop locally. Buy American. Help your neighbor in need. Try to save some money to prepare for the tax bill that will be coming. Don't spend your tax refund before you get it - it may not be there. Let's restore American pride and self-determination. We can do it!
Disclosure: The Mister and I are currently unemployed. The Boy receives Medicaid (as he is disabled). We manage fine on what we receive...and are furiously looking for our next job. I realize that some of my ideas will result in a lessening of benefits we currently qualify for - we are prepared to make adjustments in our budget to account for that.