There was an interesting lead paragraph in an article on the front page of The Wall Street Journal last Thursday:
"The blackout of 2003 offers a simple but powerful lesson: Markets are a great way to organize economic activity, but they need adult supervision."
Gee. They've finally figured that out. The nuns I had in grammar school were onto this adult supervision notion decades ago. It seems to be just dawning on the power brokers of the 21st century. Maybe soon the voters will catch on. You need adults in charge.
We barreled into Iraq with no real thought given to the consequences, and now we've got a tragic mess on our hands. California looks like something out of "Lord of the Flies," and yet the person getting the most attention as a candidate to clean up that insane situation is an actor with a history of immature behavior whose cartoonish roles appeal most strongly to children. Maybe he'll shoot the budget deficit. Hasta la vista, baby.
Appalling behavior and appalling policies have become the norm among folks entrusted with the heaviest responsibilities in business and government. The federal budget deficit will approach half a trillion dollars next year. And that will be followed by huge additional deficits, year after irresponsible year, extending far off into the horizon. And, of course, the baby boomers, the least responsible generation in memory, will soon begin retiring and collecting their Social Security and federal health benefits, leaving the mountains of unpaid bills for the hapless generations behind them.
What this nation needs is a timeout.
Imagine if we had done some things differently. If, for example, instead of squandering such staggering amounts of federal money on tax cuts and an ill-advised war, we had invested wisely in some of the nation's pressing needs. What if we had begun to refurbish our antiquated electrical grid, or developed creative new ways to replenish the stock of affordable housing, or really tackled the job of rebuilding and rejuvenating the public schools?
What if we had called in the best minds from coast to coast to begin a crash program, in good faith and with solid federal backing, to substantially reduce our dependence on foreign oil by changing our laws and habits, and developing safer, cleaner, less-expensive alternatives? This is exactly the kind of effort that the United States, with its can-do spirit and vast commercial, technological and intellectual resources, would be great at.
Imagine if we had begun a program to rebuild our aging infrastructure — the highways, bridges, tunnels and dams, the water and sewage facilities, the airports and transit systems. Imagine on this Labor Day 2003 the number of good jobs that could be generated with that kind of long-term effort.
All of these issues, if approached properly, are job creators, including the effort to reduce our energy dependence. The big hangup in the economic recovery we are supposed to be experiencing now is the continued joblessness and underemployment.
A fellow I ran into recently in San Jose, Calif., Andy Fortuna, said: "I've got a college degree and I'm washing cars. I'm working, but I'd like a good job. If the idea is for business to employ as few people as possible and keep their pay as low as possible — well, how's that good for me? Who speaks for me?"
Wise investments along these lines have dual payoffs — they help us take care of critical national needs and they help sustain the high levels of employment that are needed to keep the nation's high-powered consumer economy humming.
One other critical need that is not getting enough attention is homeland security. A series of recent reports has shown that two years after the Sept. 11 attacks we remain dangerously unprepared for another terrorist strike inside the U.S. And one of the major reasons we remain unprepared is that so many of the agencies responsible for our domestic defenses against terror are undertrained, understaffed and underfinanced.
We are at a stage now where mature, responsible leadership is more essential than ever. All of the problems that we have ignored until now remain with us. But the money that might have started us on the road to solutions is gone. We are mired in Iraq, and not properly prepared at home.
We could use some adult supervision.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company