“I know why America is falling into a cataclysm of debt and can’t get out,” wrote Henry Allen, a former Pulitzer Prize winner, in The Washington Post on June 17. He blames, “a squalor of doom and debt that prompts the best sort of people to spit sarcasms at each other during cocktail hour, to weep and rage the way Congress is doing as the debt limit looms on Aug. 2.”
He writes that, for many families, their best days seemed in the past. “We were not unusual -- in so many families, the money had been made, the money had been spent.” But this is unnecessarily fatalistic. Decline isn’t inevitable. In many ways, it’s a choice, one made by both individuals and governments.
For example, Allen writes that his ancestors “built railroads.” Sadly, people don’t build them anymore, but government policies have a lot to do with that.
If you set out to build a railroad, after all, you’d need to obtain lots of land, and that would require any number of environmental impact statements. Neighbors would use federal and state lawsuits to slow your progress, meaning you’d spend years tied up in red tape before you could lay any track. And besides, the federal government has vowed to build high-speed rail lines hither and yon. You can’t compete with Uncle Sam.
Still, there are plenty of ways a person can succeed. Instead of a railroad, why not start a trucking company? Or get some Segway scooters and begin giving tours of your historic neighborhood? American prosperity is restrained only by American ingenuity, and our ingenuity is virtually boundless.
Allen imagines a very different America, though. “The conversation usually goes this way: proposals for impossible cuts in spending are met by equally impossible refusals to make them. Slash Medicare? Stop saving oppressed foreigners from tyranny? Raise taxes? The rock and the hard place. It’s a question of standards,” he writes.
He sees the country mired in ennui, unable or unwilling to move forward. Instead of doing something, Allen imagines us wringing our hands as problems get worse. However, there are proposals to address our problems. Rep. Paul Ryan, for example, drafted a proposal that aims to fix Medicare -- not by slashing it, but by introducing consumer choice for those under the age of 55. This market-based approach would unlock the power of American creativity and could allow our system to deliver better medical services for less money. It’s certainly worth a try.