As the “Boys of Summer” round the bases toward the fall playoffs and World Series, I am struck by the baseball metaphor to capture the appropriate role of government.
Several decades ago, I would marvel as the magnificent field would unfold as I journeyed up the ramp to my seat at Shea Stadium (home of the New York Mets). Impeccably manicured and level, the field provided the athletes with a fair opportunity to exercise their well developed craft and talent.
Onto the field those champions of summer would arrive, only to be met by others wearing a different uniform: the umpires. It was this group who would assess the proceedings with objectivity and prudent judgment to guarantee fairness.
As in life, the injured are usually an unpredictable bunch. Fortunately, there was a system in place to provide emergency services to a player in need, so they can hopefully resume play at a later date.
The forenamed seems an appropriate model for government:
• Maintain a level playing field (equal opportunity);
• Employ prudent, objective referees for the proceedings (appropriate regulation);
• Provide a social safety net to those in need until they can resume play (humane compassion, charity).
Once this framework (government infrastructure) was in place, the players (private enterprise) could then take the field and demonstrate their magic. It is this magic that draws us to the field and television as we enjoy quality time with our family and friends.
During these proceedings an interesting dynamic unfolds: some (possibly most) of the attendees frequent the concession areas for food, drink, and souvenirs; hence, cottage industries are born. This scenario typifies the economic multiplier (monetary velocity) in action. The same dollar circulates around the stadium to many people, thereby creating more than $1 of total income: to wit, economic activity and growth abound.
Presently, the government has focused less on functions it performs well (development of infrastructure) and more on those it performs poorly (innovative and creative enterprise).
The republic was founded on a belief system that values the individual mind, body, and spirit. From this sprung the core tenets: liberty, justice, opportunity, and responsibility. For decades (possibly a century), our society has been gradually moving away from this foundation.
In 1792, total government spending was near 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and total debt was nearly 35 percent of income (a significant amount was incurred during the Revolutionary War). Today, total government expenditures are approximately 40 percent of GDP, while debt (including intragovernmental debt, such as Social Security and Medicare obligations) approaches 100 percent of income. This debt excludes the estimated $100 trillion of unfunded future obligations during the next 75 years (primarily for Social Security and Medicare).
Unfortunately, the president seems to be conflating the cause and prescription for the financial conundrum we now face.
In a prime time speech on Sept. 8, the president indicated that the previous administration enabled irresponsible behavior (fiscal and monetary). This is an accurate characterization. However, the president then implies, incorrectly, that the aberrant behavior reflects failed conservative principles espoused by the other party (Republicans).
In fact, the true cause of the financial and economic crisis was a philosophical retreat from responsible conservatism.
The president uses the conflated logic to prescribe a movement away from those conservative principles (elect Democrats to implement more liberal principles).
Yet logic and reason require the opposite: the reinstatement of responsible conservative principles, which value fairness, opportunity, and productivity.
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