America at a Crossroads

30 Jun

Friedman in the Times yesterday:

My fellow Americans: We are a country in debt and in decline — not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline. Our political system seems incapable of producing long-range answers to big problems or big opportunities. We are the ones who need a better-functioning democracy — more than the Iraqis and Afghans. We are the ones in need of nation-building. It is our political system that is not working.

I continue to be appalled at the gap between what is clearly going to be the next great global industry — renewable energy and clean power — and the inability of Congress and the administration to put in place the bold policies we need to ensure that America leads that industry.

“America and its political leaders, after two decades of failing to come together to solve big problems, seem to have lost faith in their ability to do so,” Wall Street Journal columnist Gerald Seib noted last week. “A political system that expects failure doesn’t try very hard to produce anything else.”

We used to try harder and do better. After Sputnik, we came together as a nation and responded with a technology, infrastructure and education surge, notes Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International. After the 1973 oil crisis, we came together and made dramatic improvements in energy efficiency. After Social Security became imperiled in the early 1980s, we came together and fixed it for that moment. “But today,” added Hormats, “the political system seems incapable of producing a critical mass to support any kind of serious long-term reform.”

If the old saying — that “as General Motors goes, so goes America” — is true, then folks, we’re in a lot of trouble. General Motors’s stock-market value now stands at just $6.47 billion, compared with Toyota’s $162.6 billion. On top of it, G.M. shares sank to a 34-year low last week.

That’s us. We’re at a 34-year low. And digging out of this hole is what the next election has to be about and is going to be about — even if it is interrupted by a terrorist attack or an outbreak of war or peace in Iraq. We need nation-building at home, and we cannot wait another year to get started. Vote for the candidate who you think will do that best. Nothing else matters.

There are so many reasons and causes for this inevitable chicken roost homecoming that I can’t even begin to hurl epithets at them. But I’m willing to overlook them for now just to have some people in congress take some bold steps that will help us in the future. Fewer international misadventures and more time and money being spent on transitioning our economy would be a swell idea.

20 Responses to “America at a Crossroads”

  1. Snarky Snarkmore McSnarkamaphone June 30, 2008 at 8:51 am #

    Vote for the candidate who you think will do that best. Nothing else matters.

    Which is why I’m not voting for McCain.

    Or for Obama.

    In fact, I’d go further and say that if you are serious about change, electoral politics ain’t the way, anyway. Who’s done more for Buffalo: Byron Brown or Mike Gainer?


  2. Mike In WNY June 30, 2008 at 10:10 am #

    Haven’t you had enough of the government trying to run the economy? Look around, the results are not good. We don’t need bold steps, we need the reversal of steps already in place. Our energy problems are due to government interference in the oil market and backing ineffective (and costly) solutions.

    Unleashing the market to work uninhibited is the only way to come up with cost effective, efficient solutions.

  3. Buffalopundit June 30, 2008 at 10:26 am #

    Mike, if we didn’t have government intervention, oil in the US would be an unfettered monopoly. I don’t know which is worse, having a profit-seeking company as a monopoly, or a government (China). Give me a break with the absolutism.

  4. STEEL June 30, 2008 at 11:05 am #

    Shouldn’t fail be on the left side in that taking that path puts you into head on traffic?

  5. Russell June 30, 2008 at 12:46 pm #

    Fail is always on the left. Good point, Steel.

    BP, I asked it before and never got an answer. Could you tell me how oil would be a monopoly? First, a commodity cannot be a monopoly. Even if it could, oil does not hold a monopoly on our energy needs. Second, there are plenty of profit-seeking companies involved in oil, both domestically and internationally at every level of the industry. There is no company even close to a monopoly in the oil industry and certainly not in energy writ large. Please let me know what definition of monopoly you and Powers are using because I cannot make sense of it.

  6. Prodigal Son June 30, 2008 at 1:10 pm #

    I think Friedman hits the nail on the head – we now have a political system that can’t think beyond the next election. The next HOUSE election, every two years.

    The President, as Head of State, individually has remarkably little control to set long term policies. It takes the agreement of multiple administrations of both parties to have success in the long term (i.e. the Cold War).

    Long term policy solutions need to come from Congress. That body writes the legislation to implement long term policies (i.e. funding the space program, environmental policy like Clean Water Act, NEPA, etc). But as long as both parties only think of the next election cycle, both groups would rather “leave items on the table” for use as political advantage against their opponents, rather than solve anything.

    So what happens? Congress gets together, thinks about doing something for six months, bickers, and then spends 18 months campaigning. We need government to at least TRY to work longer than 6 months every 2 years.

    No offense BP, but Obama and Powers won’t solve that. In their defense, my guy McCain won’t solve it either. The only thing that wakes this sleeping giant of a country is true crisis. And $4 is not a crisis, yet.

  7. Prodigal Son June 30, 2008 at 1:19 pm #

    I meant $4 a gallon gas, of course. I really wish you could edit posts. . . .

  8. Denizen June 30, 2008 at 1:30 pm #

    America’s economy and culture is suffering from the same basic problem at all levels of society: Unfettered greed and arrogance. We’ve become a nation of short-sighted, narcissistic, faux-“individualist” chest-beating asshats who only live for immediate short-term profits, or the next quickest fix on whatever form of real or figurative drug it might be.

    Our political climate is a product of the people. Apathy, indifference, and a childish entitlement complex have allowed corporations to run amok, monopolizing nearly every form of economic activity, while politicians and bought and sold by the highest corporate bidder and held unaccountable by the indifferent voting populace who are too distracted by electronic entertainment and all the disease-inducing frankenfoods based on high-fructose corn syrup.

    I’m resigned to the notion that the economic and social catastrophe on the horizon is almost entirely something we deserve. When gas hits $12/gallon, it will be funny watching at least two generations who have never lived without the prosthetic aid of an automobile, freak out and not know what the fuck to do except blame everyone but themselves for this crisis.

  9. Russell June 30, 2008 at 1:54 pm #

    In the late 70s, we were going to be buried by the USSR. Our economy was in shambles and so was our political system. The Chicken Littles of the world predicted the end of American supremacy economically and politically.

    The early 90s, the US political and economic systems were in shambles mainly due to the Savings and Loan fiasco. Japan and other foreign entities were buying anything and everything they could get their hands on in the US. The Chicken Littles told us this was the end of US economic might.

    2008, the US economic system is in shambles leading people to say the political system is to blame for all of it. The Chicken Littles of the world are predicting this is the end of the US as we know it and major changes need to be enacted in order for us to survive and preserve what’s left of our way of life.

    Does anyone see a pattern here? It’s called the Business Cycle (or Polticial Business Cycle), people. It’s part of the natural up-and-down, cyclical nature of the economy. Without any radical changes enacted, most economists are already saying we’ll be out of this by the end of this year and the economy will be in good shape one year from now. Calm down and get some perspective on this before you think we need to dismantle every pillar of our society. If these downturns didn’t happen, there’d be a problem, but their occurance is natural and normal and nothing to overreact about.

    Sure, vote for the best candidate. I don’t know why anyone thinks they need to tell you that. But don’t think any candidate can break this cycle. That’s just foolishness.

  10. Mike In WNY June 30, 2008 at 2:02 pm #

    BP, letting a free-market work out the best solutions through unrestricted competition, and without misguided government mandates, can hardly be considered absolutism.

  11. Buffalopundit June 30, 2008 at 4:28 pm #

    @Russell. Google “antitrust + Standard Oil” to determine how an oil company can have a monopoly. As for the definition of “monopoly” perhaps you can consult your dictionary.

    Maybe I was too rash in declaring Bush to be the worst administration ever. Let’s just settle on “Carter-with-an-extra-term”. Shit, when Carter fucked up a military operation, it only took a day.

    Also, just as an aside, the use of “Homeland” in place of “America” or “The United States” or even “my country” is nothing more than sheer asshattery.

  12. Tbone June 30, 2008 at 5:23 pm #

    A “swell” idea would be less spending by our government period… on international and domestic misadventures. A “swell” idea that would allow our economy to grow is to balance the budget and increase the strength of the dollar.

  13. Master Caution July 1, 2008 at 4:52 am #


    The reason a lot of “chicken littles” were making noise about the collapse of our way of life in the 1970s was the oil crisis. During those price shocks, which saw our economy grind to a halt for short periods of time, the volume of oil taken off the market by the Iranian embargo and the OPEC export cut was less than 20 percent of our usage at the time. And today? Look at Katrina. The storm removed less than ten percent of U.S. daily oil usage from the market and the price of gas shot up over a dollar nationwide. That should tell you how precarious our current situation is.

    The only reason the crises of the ’70s hit the U.S. so hard was because U.S. oil production peaked in 1970. North Sea oil production came on line, so the commentary about alternative fuels and energy-conservative lifestyles fell out of the mainstream.

    There are no more North Seas, or Ghawars, or Texas elephants to save our ass. At best estimates, there’s barely enough in ANWR to keep us humming for half a day – at years-old consumption levels. The people advocating a change in American lifestyle today aren’t chicken littles; they’re realists. You’re the dreamer. Sure, if you look at the American GDP on a large enough time scale and ignore everything else, there are dips and peaks and it looks like a regular, natural process. But that’s just it: you have to ignore every social, economic, political, historical, ecological, and population-based factor to make it look natural. Stare at it long enough, and maybe it won’t matter when the Wal-Mart you can’t afford to get to runs out of food.

    I mean, at least you’ve got that cool graph. Right?

  14. Russell July 1, 2008 at 8:03 am #


    I didn’t do your Google search, but I don’t think I need to. Wasn’t Standard Oil broken up about a century ago? I thought we were talking about current conditions. I had no idea Jon Powers and you are talking about breaking up a monopoly that was broken up a century ago–very forward thinking.

    I don’t get why you offered that as your explanation, but it doesn’t answer the question I asked. First, how can a commodity be a monopoly? You offered something about an oil company. Second, how can anything in energy today be called a monopoly when there are more than one energy options used quite extensively everyday and how can a monopoly exist when there are many, many companies domestically and internationally at every level of the energy industry? I’m talking about today, right now, concerning what you posted and what Jonny Powers is saying. Don’t give me some story about a company broken up about a hundred years ago. That’s entirely irrelevant.

    I am very much familiar with dictionary definitions of monopoly and economic defintions of it. That’s why I’m asking the question.

  15. Russell July 1, 2008 at 8:37 am #

    And the use of “Homeland” in the other thread was not intended to be asshattery. The department charged with that responsibility is termed Homeland Security. When referencing our security I used the term “homeland”–did not mean to offend and had no idea it would.

  16. Buffalopundit July 1, 2008 at 9:09 am #

    @Russell: Are you reading this stuff or just reacting with your gut a la Colbert? Let’s review.

    I suggested, in response to Mike in WNY, who is a Libertarian, that if we didn’t have government intervention, oil companies would have a monopoly. Despite your penchant for raising irrelevant, obtuse points, I wasn’t talking about the present day, and I wasn’t doing an ad for Jon Powers.

    You suggested that it is impossible for oil to be a monopoly, or any commodity. I then raised the issue of why we have antitrust statutes to begin with, which was the Standard Oil trust/monopoly that was built around oil. Had the government not intervened, that would have / could have continued for all time, as far as anyone knows.

    So, your pithy retort as to “present day” is, as usual, irrelevant and beside the point.

    As for your use of the word “Homeland”, I never suggested or said that I was “offended”, and as usual that’s right from the Hannity playbook for you to turn it around like that. You can use “Homeland” in place of “America” all you want and I won’t be offended.

    I said it was asshattery.

    I think the adoption of the term “Homeland” by Americans in the last 7 years since 9/11 is dumb and un-American. That term’s use – whether it be by Hannityesque Republican commenters on an obscure local political blog or by the President of the United States – is parafascist nationalistic rhetoric not unlike Vaterland and Domovina and Rodina-Mat (or Rodina) as used elsewhere throughout history. If I’m not mistaken, I’ve pointed out in past posts that a simpler and more American name for the DHS would be something like “Department of Internal Affairs”. Democracies usually have a “Ministry of Internal Affairs”, so it’s a good synonymic fit. You’re free to embrace “homeland”, of course, as you wish.

    Hope that helps!

  17. Russell July 1, 2008 at 10:23 am #

    I’ll agree “homeland” sounds parafascist and nationalistic.

    I orginally asked the question last week when you posted about Jonny Powers and Jack Davis, but you ignored it then, so I brought it up again here and asked in the context of both statements. Even with your defense, the global market is too diverse for a monopoly like Standard Oil to happen again. The industry and market were completely different back then and irrelevant to today or tomorrow.

    Besides, government intervention has given us OPEC.

  18. Master Caution July 1, 2008 at 12:06 pm #

    There are more than one energy options used quite extensively every day? Where?

  19. Russell July 1, 2008 at 12:36 pm #

    Does your computer run on gas?

  20. Ben McD July 1, 2008 at 1:44 pm #

    “Mike, if we didn’t have government intervention, oil in the US would be an unfettered monopoly.”

    That is an interesting statement. It is almost impossible for a monopoly to exist without government intervention.

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