Questions For A Nation That Has Lost Its Way

Austin Hill

8/14/2011 12:01:00 AM - Austin Hill

A new poll shows that 73% of Americans think our country is on the wrong track.

Are you one of the seventy-three percenters?

The poll from Reuters/Ipsos Public Relations was conducted between August 4 and August 8. Given the turmoil over the federal government “debt deal,” the downgrade of federal government debt, and the dramatic shifts in the global stock markets during this period, it’s not surprising that the “wrong track” figure leaped ten percentage points – up from 63% - compared to the same poll conducted exactly one month prior.

What was a bit surprising, however, was that this relatively high percentage of Americans reported “wrong track” status for the country, despite the fact that there were slightly more registered Democrats surveyed than there were registered Republicans. Given that Democrat ideology rules the U.S. Senate and the White House, it would make sense that registered Democrats in America would be more pleased with the leadership of their fellow Democrats who hold elective office.

But if the United States is on the wrong track – if our nation has truly lost its way - then a couple of other questions should follow: A) what is the “right track” for America? And B) How will we know when we’re “on” it?

Rather than try to quickly answer these two questions, I’m suggesting that we all should first contemplate several other questions. As the title of a famous sales training book once noted, “questions are the answers” – so here are a couple that can help move the process forward:

Who manages wealth the best – private individuals and groups, or politicians and government bureaucrats? For most of my adult life – that is, since the days of the Reagan presidency - the United States federal government has been fairly respectful of every American’s right to create, and possess monetary wealth, and has mostly avoided being punitive towards the wealthiest in society.

Additionally, our government’s leadership has been fairly accepting of the notion that when Americans are permitted to keep more of their own wealth, rather than less of it, they usually do productive things with it that ultimately benefit the overall economy. Even Democrat President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors noted in 1994 that "It is undeniable that the sharp reduction in taxes in the early 1980s was a strong impetus to economic growth."

Yet today our nation is afflicted with a terrible philosophical malaise – I call it “the politics of envy.” With a President who campaigned on a pledge to “spread the wealth around,” many Americans today make the assumption that the wealthiest among us achieved their earnings by questionable if not immoral means and deserve to have ever-increasing portions of it taken from them in the form of “higher taxes.” Likewise the assumption is made that when individuals possess large sums of wealth they only do “selfish” things with it, whereas politicians can force wealthy people to expand their businesses and “create jobs” and can spend people’s money in ways that benefit “everyone.”

This esteemed view of government seems terrific – but is it really accurate? The agenda of President Obama and his Democrat party has helped create an environment where roughly half of the population pays no income taxes, so presumably the President has spread at least some wealth “around.” But have the new controls and mandates and regulations placed on businesses – all in the name of the “collective good” – really been beneficial to anybody? As Steve Wynn, CEO of Wynn Resorts, LTD recently noted, “those of us who have business opportunities and the capital to do it are going to sit in fear of the President…” Indeed treating business owners and “the wealthy” as though they are something less than dignified respectable human beings has produced a stagnant economy, and the constant threat from the President to raise taxes on the wealthy makes matters worse not better.

And here’s another soul-searching question for a nation that is on the “wrong track:” is America strengthened when growing portions of its citizens are content to live off of the largess of others? According to the Congressional Budget Office, the signature domestic agenda item of our current President – “Obamacare,” if you will – has led many of our fellow Americans to believe that they simply no longer need to work for a living because of all the “free” assistance they can get from our government.

This is not just political “spin” or partisan punditry. It comes directly from Douglas Elmendorf, the Director of the non-partisan C.B.O. It was none other than Mr. Elmendorf himself who noted in late 2010 that, outside the healthcare sector of our economy, the greatest impact of the Obamacare agenda will be in the labor market as the program incentivizes people to not work. Is this really something that puts America on the “right track?” It may be helping to bring down the unemployment rate, but it is certainly not leading our country to prosperity and productivity.

The pain of a stagnant economy and high unemployment is quite evident, while the flaws of bad government policy are not always so obvious. Americans should be contemplating these, and lots of other questions, as we seek to get our nation back on course.