5 Structural Problems That Are Destroying America

John Hawkins

3/15/2014 12:01:00 AM - John Hawkins

The biggest fallacy in politics is that we need "another Reagan" or more "Tea Partiers" in Congress if we want to save the country. Granted, either would certainly help, but America's structural problems are much bigger than any personnel issues we have in D.C. Even if you're an extremely talented craftsman, you're going to have trouble building a house if the only materials you're allowed to work with are sand and straw. It wouldn't matter if Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant were all on the same basketball team if they were only allowed to put three players on the court at a time. If you're trying to build the world's largest farm in the middle of the Sahara Desert, it probably isn't going to matter if you have state of the art equipment.

We have the ability to fix every problem that's confronting us as a nation, but until we stop making cosmetic changes and start addressing the underlying, intractable issues that are ruining the country, we're unlikely to make a lot of progress.

1) Insufficient Turnover In Congress: Because of gerrymandering, political polarization, and a lack of term limits, Congress has turned into a stagnant pond. In most states and districts, that notorious Third World dictum (One man, one vote, one time) has become the rule. Unless a politician upsets his own side's interest groups or gets caught up in a major scandal, an election to Congress is likely to last until a politician is ready to retire to a beach somewhere. Career politicians produce bad outcomes for the country. Members of Congress make draconian laws because they don't expect to have to live under them as citizens. Additionally, politicians who view being members of Congress as their "jobs" are likely to feel very comfortable selling out the country to special interest groups because they contribute to their campaigns and it benefits them personally. As a practical matter, we've gotten to the point where there's not much difference between most members of Congress and nobles from 500 years ago who ruled because of their family names and given that, it's no surprise that many of them "rule" just as poorly.

2) A Broken Education System: The primary goal of our education is not to educate our students; it's to sustain the teachers’ unions and fatten the bank accounts of the college professors and administrators at our universities. This is why the education establishment hates private schools, school vouchers, and charter schools, even though they do a better job of educating students than our public school system. It's also why, as Mike Rowe likes to say, "We are lending money we don't have to kids who can't pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist." In a time when low-skill jobs are being replaced by automation and sent overseas, the quality of our high school education is inferior in most ways to what it was a couple of generations ago while the price of our college education has skyrocketed. In a world where the economy is increasingly centered around high-skill jobs, our education system is a recipe for decay.

3) Unsustainable Spending: It is quite literally impossible to pay off the debt our nation owes along with the commitment we've made to our own citizens via Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security unless inflation dramatically reduces the value of our currency which would erode savings, drive cost-of-living expenses into the stratosphere and generally decimate the economy. Meanwhile, taking even the mildest steps to safeguard the future of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid has proven to be almost impossible in the current political environment. As a practical matter, this means our country is headed towards bankruptcy or runaway inflation so bad that we might as well be bankrupt. The tragedy of this is that there is no issue more important to our nation's future, but that has been said so often that most people's eyes glaze over when you talk about the subject. Sadly, our nation will probably have to start going over the falls before everyone agrees that we have to start paddling in the other direction and by then, it will be too late.

4) Our Immigration Policies: An ideal immigration policy would be based on merit, would focus on adding highly skilled immigrants, would be easily adjustable, wouldn't change the demographics of our country and would be simple and inexpensive for law-abiding immigrants. Our current system meets none of these requirements. Instead, we have a system that for all practical matters favors a law-breaking 17 year old from Mexico with a third grade education over a British neurosurgeon or a German engineer. Moreover, at times like these, when so many Americans are out of work, it's worth asking whether it makes sense to be bringing in any new citizens. That's not a slam on immigrants because we have a lot of hard-working entrepreneurs who came here because they saw America as a land of opportunity; it's an acknowledgement of the most basic fact of immigration: the whole purpose of it is to benefit people who are already American citizens. Bringing in uneducated ditch-diggers who'll never pay income tax doesn't benefit most Americans. Intentionally changing the demographics of the country doesn't benefit most Americans. Rewarding lawbreakers who come into the country illegally doesn't benefit most Americans. Bringing in more than a million new immigrants a year when there are less people working today than there were seven years ago doesn't benefit most Americans. Immigration could be America's greatest strength, but our poorly designed system makes no sense. No business could survive if it brought in the same number of new employees every year, regardless of qualifications or need, then added everyone who could sneak into its lobby onto the payroll. Long term, our nation isn't much different than that business.

5) An Overly-Progressive Tax System: America doesn't have the highest taxes in the Western world, but it does have the most progressive tax system in the Western world. As a practical matter, what this means is that we have large numbers of Americans voting on whether others should pay more taxes in order to give them things. This is a recipe for disaster because it penalizes the most successful Americans, makes it more difficult to get ahead, discourages investment and job growth, and encourages massive spending in order to produce very marginal benefits. Put another way, "if you rob Peter to pay Paul, you can be pretty sure of getting Paul’s vote." Meanwhile, as we've learned during the Obama era, even after Paul ends up with Peter's cash, he'll still be screaming that he's not getting his "fair share." That's not a recipe for a happy society, a growing economy or a small, efficient government.