... as depressing as that may be to hear. Some friends recently described their December trip to India, the first time they've visited in years. India's economy is on fire, unleashing some tremendous pent-up economic demand. What was striking, my friends related, was how strongly India's economic development is geared toward the future, towards not only catching up with wealthier, more developed nations, but also towards anticipating and meeting economic challenges that loom in the future. This is in stark contrast to the US, which seems, at best, focused on defending the status quo. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post points us to a speech just given by John Kerry on this very topic. He asks:
Do [we] want a government too limited to have invented the Internet, now a vital part of our commerce and communications? A government too small to give America’s auto industry and all its workers a second chance to fight for their survival? Taxes too low to invest in the research that creates jobs and industries and fills the Treasury with the revenue that educates our children, cures disease, and defends our country?
Critically, Kerry points to our political ossification as our potential Achilles' heel. While I'm disappointed that Kerry doesn't offer specific solutions beyond "senators need to learn to work together," this speech is a must-read for anyone interested in the role of science and tech in our societal health. (Follow the link to Klein's blog for the whole thing.) More below the fold to whet your appetite: On partisanship:
It’s no secret that I’m a convinced Democrat. And I know it’s better to be in the majority than in the minority. And I don't want anyone to come to the Senate, check their beliefs at the door, and "go Washington." Neither did the Founding Fathers. And certainly no one's elected to the Senate promising to join an exclusive club-- or to forget where they came from. But the truth is some of the most fiercely independent, plain-talking, direct, and determined partisans I've ever known in the Senate have also been the ones who tackled the toughest issues, finding common ground with people they disagreed with on damn near everything else. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a New York liberal. Alan Simpson was a Wyoming conservative. But they could sit down and talk and debate and disagree about deficits, debts, and entitlements and somehow someway they could shape a way forward. And they did it in a way that enlisted liberals like Bill Bradley, moderates like Jack Heinz, and conservatives like John Danforth because they knew that certain issues were just too important to be lost in partisan squabbling. And you couldn't find three more proudly partisan and ideologically distinct politicians than Ronald Reagan, Tip O’Neill, and Bob Dole. But they found a way to put politics aside and save Social Security for a generation rather than saving it for misuse as a cudgel in the next campaign. They didn't capitulate - they compromised. And, speaking of backroom deals, they agreed NOT to let either party demagogue the issue against the incumbents who cast the tough votes to pass the bill. Now, if you’ve got to have a backroom deal, that’s the kind to have.
On anti-government rhetoric:
For the last months we’ve watched the news and read the campaign literature and heard a lot the soundbites. We've heard politicians say they won't become a part of Washington. That say they're for small government, lower taxes, and more freedom. But what do they really mean? Do they want a government too limited to have invented the Internet, now a vital part of our commerce and communications? A government too small to give America’s auto industry and all its workers a second chance to fight for their survival? Taxes too low to invest in the research that creates jobs and industries and fills the Treasury with the revenue that educates our children, cures disease, and defends our country?
On the 1990's:
How we got off track is a story that doesn’t require retelling. But the truth of how we generated the 1990’s economic boom does need to be told. We didn’t just cut our way to a balanced budget; we grew our way there. And nothing played a more important role than the fact that we developed a one trillion dollar technology market with one billion users. Today we’re staring another economic opportunity of extraordinary proportions right in the face – and so far we’re doing precious little about it. The current energy economy is a $6 trillion market with 4 billion users (and the possibility of growing to 9 billion in the next 30 years) – and the fastest growing segment of that is green energy – projected at $2.3 trillion in 2020. Yet, as of today, without different policy decisions by us, most of this investment will be in Asia, and not the United States. Two years ago, China accounted for just 5 percent of the world’s solar panel production. Now it boasts the world’s largest solar panel manufacturing industry, exporting about 95 percent of its production to countries including the United States. We invented the technology but China is reaping the rewards.
On our failure to meet emerging challenges:
So, let me share some facts with you. Right now, other developed and developing countries are making far-reaching choices to reshape their economies and move forward in a new and very different global era. But instead of us responding as Americans have in the past, the frustrating reality is that our American political system is increasingly paralyzed and Balkanized into a patchwork of narrow interests that have driven the larger “national good” far from the national dialogue altogether. Increasingly, overheated ideology and partisan infighting leave us less able to address or even comprehend the decisive nature and scale of the challenges that will decide our whole future. The fact is – our strength at home determines our strength in the world. And other countries are constantly taking our measure, sizing us up, watching our politics, measuring our gridlock. On issue after issue, enduring consensus has been frayed or shredded by lust for power cloaked in partisan games. Health care’s individual mandate? Guess what -- it started as a Republican idea-- a pro-business idea-- because rising insurance costs leave big holes in profits. Cap and trade? Guess again -- another Republican idea based on market principles and, with bipartisanship, successfully implemented by President George Herbert Walker Bush, now denounced as ideological heresy. And energy independence? For forty years, every President since Richard Nixon has recognized that foreign oil imports are America’s Achilles heel. But whenever we’ve had a chance to act, we’ve been blocked by entrenched influence and the siren call of short-term interest instead of achieving long-term success.
On the crucial role of infrastructure:
Just think about an issue as simple and fundamental as building and investing in America – an issue that was once so clearly bi-partisan. The Republican Mayor of New York City Fiorello LaGuardia famously said: “There’s no Republican or Democratic way to clean the streets.” Well, for decades there was no Democratic or Republican way to build roads and bridges and airports. The building of America was every American’s job. This wasn’t narrow pork; it was a national priority. But today, we’re still living off and wearing out the infrastructure put in place by Republicans and Democrats together, starting with President Eisenhower’s interstate highway system. We didn’t build it; our parents and grandparents did. Now partisan paralysis has kept us from renewing that inheritance even as it decays from neglect. And the question is – what are we building for our children and our future generations? Reliable, modern infrastructure isn’t a luxury. It’s the lifeblood of our economy-- the key to connecting our markets, moving products and people, generating and sustaining millions of jobs for American workers, to not wasting hundreds of thousands of hours and millions of gallons of gas on clogged highways. In the face of global competition, our growth and exports are directly tied to the modernity of our infrastructure. As we invest too little and our competitors invest more and more, the harder and harder it will be to catch up – and the more and more attractive those countries will be for future investments.
Like I said, there aren't really solutions here beyond a call for national purpose. But the speech is a strong reminded that how we conduct our politics and run our government really does matter.