This, We Believe #4: The stronger we make our country, the more she gives back to our children and grandchildren.
“Our republic has no justification unless it is a genuine democracy — a democracy economically as well as politically — a democracy in which there is a real, sincere effort to realize the ideal of equal opportunity for all [women and] men.” — President Theodore Roosevelt
States and nations do not build wealth by storing cash in a bank vault. They build wealth by making human solutions to human challenges more widely available to more of its people. Whether the challenge is safety, health, transportation, education, or the basic needs of living, the measure of a nation’s wealth is not merely GDP, it is quality of life.
It is what the Founding Fathers called, “the pursuit of happiness” — the Revolutionary idea that the well-being of people should be the central objective any government.
The United States is the greatest job creating and opportunity-generating engine ever created. But we must put fuel in our country’s tank if we expect her to carry our kids to a better, safer, healthier future. Today, the pace of economic change in our world is faster than it has ever been; but, discretionary spending — investments in our country’s infrastructure, innovation capacity, and the skills of our people — is half of what it was 20 years ago.
This isn’t a natural phenomenon, it is the result of short-sighted choices and the free of a powerful few. It is the result of putting tax cuts for the already wealthy ahead of investments which make our country stronger and our people more successful in a time of rapid change.
Trickle-down economics is un-American. Its leading features — the concentration of wealth, deficit spending, and the holding down of wages — all run contrary to traditional American capitalism. Trickle down economic does not work, and it never has. In fact, even with solid strides in job creation, average weekly wages and consumer spending have been declining ever since the last round of tax cuts for millionaires and corporations. Those tax cuts increased our deficit, but they did not increase take-home pay, and they did not make our country stronger.
There is, however, a formula that works. It is a formula that enforces rules of fair play in our business dealings with one another, and it punishes those who violate them. It is a formula that guarantees a living wage that keeps pace with inflation for even the least skilled and hardest of jobs. It is a formula that educates our children at higher and better levels for the skills required in today’s workplaces. It is a formula that pushes back on the excesses of greed and the exploitations of monopoly power.
This formula is called, Traditional American capitalism. And it actually works when it’s not corrupted and watered down by the self-interest of concentrated wealth.
When we couple this formula with smart national investments, we make ourselves “the land of opportunity” in truth, and not just in memory. It is the formula that made us winners in the last two Industrial revolutions and it is the formula that will make our children winners in this Third Industrial Revolution. It is the common sense, people-focused capitalism that drove the greatest eras of American economic expansion and inclusive prosperity in the history of the world. This is the “pursuit of happiness” which has made our country great. But no generation of Americans ever gave their children a better future by making their country weaker.
Just as a bridge requires maintenance to stand strong, our country requires investments in every generation to carry our children to a better future. China can make a lot of cheap stuff for Wal-Mart to sell us, but only we can make our country stronger. This means long-term investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure. It means investing in affordable housing at a time when home costs are outpacing wage growth. And this means an innovation agenda that fosters new business starts and pushes the new frontiers of technological possibility.
Adam Smith — author of the Wealth of Nations — once wrote: “It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion.”
A nation that seeks wealth at the expense of its children’s well-being will find itself poor in every way.
There is a better way forward — we must invest again in our country’s ability to make our children winners in this changing economy.
This, We Believe — the stronger we make our country, the more she gives back to our children and grandchildren.