Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Debate America Needs

While America is fixated on the non-issues bandied about in the presidential election, serious discussion on the nation's future is largely ignored. I look at my country's trajectory and don't see anything like sustained prosperity in the offing. That especially bothers me since I was among the fortunate to enjoy wealth and advantage of the the "American Century". Not that I was ever wealthy but I have always been far better off than most of the world, whatever my level of personal discomfort. America's spiraling debt and hemorrhaging economic base certainly temper whatever enthusiasm I have for the future.

That's why I am pleased to see events like the town hall featuring Warren Buffet and David Walker and others about the future of American public finance. I respect both men; Buffet, the successful entrepreneur, and Walker, the former US Comptroller General who can add. I like the idea of the ever expanding pie that Buffet sees but I worry that an expanding pie, especially one based on the American model, will consume everything in its path. It's a delicate balance and I know what happens to any species that over populates its habitat. Walker's sobering view of the future gives me real pause because it points to the heart of American vulnerability in an ever changing world economy, vulnerability that threatens future generations.

Walker's caution appeals to me. Debt bothers me. I don't think the United States necessarily needs to manage its finances in the same manner as my household but I do believe that increasing, large debt is unwise for any economic entity. I also believe that government has specific responsibilities and obligations (read the Preamble to the Constitution if you don't understand) for which it can legitimately command resources to accomplish. What I don't believe is that one generation can pass debt on to another without also showing some accomplishment for that debt. Schools, hospitals, highways, bridges are a lasting legacy. Much of America's debt is consumption that offers little to future Americans who will pay the tab.

"Don't spend more than you can afford" is the only answer I have to offer. Economists and experts can give me all kinds of reasons why debt can work to my advantage and why it makes sense as a national policy. I can understand the idea and actually have some mortgage debt but I also know that I have a definite asset and can live with that debt. I don't think the United States can say that at the moment and would very much like to hear candidates speak to that issue.

Call me a dreamer.