Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Change That Is Coming

For the past several months our country has been having a fight (debate is definitely the wrong term and even argument is charitable) over whether we should change our health care system. In some ways this is a fight about change versus keeping things the same. Alongside the health care issue is the looming shadow of the economic breakdown that has been part of our national life for about a year now. There has been great disagreement about how to best deal with this crisis, but unlike health care, on economic matters everyone's objective has been how to keep things the same. Not the same as it is now, but the same as it was in 2006 or maybe the late 1990's. This is all that the Obama adminstration is trying to do with the stimulus and bailouts, they have no hidden plan to socialize the country, they would give anything just to get it back to what used to be normal. And those who oppose President Obama's approach still want the same thing as he, literally a return to "business as usual".

It is ironic then, that the area where there is so much consensus is the one place where there will be drastic change at odds with that consensus. This change cannot be avoided, only delayed, and even that for not much longer. As Jay Leno said recently, at some point we need an economy that actually makes something that people will buy. What will we make that can't be made cheaper somewhere else in the world? The proof of this is all around you whenever you go to the store. America is no longer in a position of strength in the world economy. What we do have going for us is the world wide dependency on the U.S. as a purchaser of goods. This cannot be changed over night without causing problems for the producing countries as well as for us. So it is really in no one's short term economic interest to stop loaning money to the United States; this gives us a window to transition to a national self-sufficiency that will now be necessary in this new economic order.

All of the above is true regardless of the possible economic and political scenarios that may play out. Say the economy recovers and we manage to pay down our national debt. What sort of jobs will people be doing? They won't be working in things connected with real estate and the financial industry. They won't be manufacturing things to export to other countries unless they're willing to work for maybe a tenth of what they have been used to. They may be manufacturing things for domestic consumption but only if those items are sold for a much higher price than what we are used to paying for imported goods, which means the market for these high priced items will be small. Suppose we elect a fiscally conservative president in 2012? This will make no difference to the sort of jobs that will be available to americans now and in the future.

We are going to have drastic change in the sort of work we do and our standard of living, and the only thing we can do is get ready for it. This is where good leadership can make a difference. We do have a limited time to prepare before this happens. A leader who is willing to talk about such a politically poisonous topic and be honest and yet encouraging can make the difference between preserving the structure of society or a chaotic collapse.