Monday, August 2, 2010

Woefully Deficient In Leadership & Ingenuity


What I've been saying, courtesy of Krugman.


I have been meaning to do a post on our incredibly stupid U.S. Senate which failed to do anything on climate and energy legislation, and then Robert Redford went ahead and did it for me. Man, that is one awesome rant. Go read it now.

Here’s the part that got me:
In the middle of the biggest oil disaster in American history, the hottest summer on record, and a war with an oil-rich nation, this group of cynics blocked efforts to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation. This was the moment brimming with potential for new jobs, a more robust economy and cleaner environment -- this bill would have guided America down a profoundly safer and more productive path.

So therefore, the Senate is left to vote on an anemic energy bill of such remarkably limited scope that it could have been passed during the Bush era.

Compare this to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, and the “societal punch” it packed. The contrast is striking. Our cowardly U.S. Senate caved to Big Oil, even as oil gushed out of the sea floor and coastal regions reeled from the loss of their tourism and fishing industries.

How far we’ve fallen in 40 years. I’m angry, and so is Redford. He writes:

The elected officials who steered this turnaround have abdicated their responsibility to uphold our nation's best interests, and have shown us, and the world, an America woefully deficient in both leadership and ingenuity.

Tough medicine, but true. And the truth is, we've been woefully deficient in these areas for years. It is, in fact, a reference to a larger, far more nefarious decline in American public life: our inability to solve our national problems.

For this discussion I direct readers to this heartbreaking Financial Times article, which I found courtesy of John Cole at Balloon Juice. It’s a depressing read, and I hate to start the week off on such a downer note, but it’s also terribly enlightening. For starters:

Nowadays in America, you have a smaller chance of swapping your lower income bracket for a higher one than in almost any other developed economy – even Britain on some measures. To invert the classic Horatio Alger stories, in today’s America if you are born in rags, you are likelier to stay in rags than in almost any corner of old Europe.


The barometer is economic. But the anger is human and increasingly political. “I have this gnawing feeling about the future of America,” says Spence. “When people lose the sense of optimism, things tend to get more volatile. The future I most fear for America is Latin American: a grossly unequal society that is prone to wild swings from populism to orthodoxy, which makes sensible government increasingly hard to imagine. Look at the Tea Party. People think it came from nowhere. While I don’t agree with their remedies, most Tea Party members are middle-class Americans who have been suffering silently for years.”

As for how we got here, the article presents several ideas: globalization, outsourcing, automation.


Then there are those, such as Paul Krugman, The New York Times columnist and Nobel prize winner, who blame it on politics, notably the conservative backlash which began when Ronald Reagan came to power in 1980, and which sped up the decline of unions and reversed the most progressive features of the US tax system.

Fewer than a tenth of American private sector workers now belong to a union. People in Europe and Canada are subjected to the same forces of globalisation and technology. But they belong to unions in larger numbers and their healthcare is publicly funded. More than half of household bankruptcies in the US are caused by a serious ­illness or accident.

I can buy that 20+ years of conservatism has caused our economic problems, but has it made us unable to solve them? Well, it’s certainly responsible for today's political paralysis in Washington, where Republicans operate in lockstep to block everything and anything in an effort to sink a Democratic President.

But the Democrats don’t get off scott-free. They were handed clear majorities in the last two elections -- the mandate Bush pretended he’d had. The fact is, they’ve failed to lead. They’ve failed to engage the American public. That we can’t pass climate and clean energy legislation in the midst of the worst oil spill in American history isn’t the fault of Republicans, it’s the fault of Democrats, including the President, for failing to make this a priority.

And if we can’t do this, right now, I fear we won’t be able to do anything at all.