Saturday, December 31, 2011

Misdiagnosing the Ills of the Welfare State: How both the Right and Left Get it Wrong

As America's industrial economy continues its decline, at least as it relates to middle class American jobs, both the right and left in American politics search for solutions. The right swears that the issue is too much governmental spending, too much red tape, and that if we'd only unchain the economy things would improve for American workers. They're right to a degree, but not right enough. Though it's true we would see some growth from a smaller regulatory state, and should do all we can to shrink the regulatory burden, deregulation alone won't solve the problem for millions of Americans who've lost their jobs and any prospects of gainful employment in the future. What's more, there are only so many regulations that can be feasibly targeted: like or not, there's just not the political support to overturn many of the regulations in place.

The left, meanwhile, wants to double down on the welfare state: more government rationed health care, more regulations on businesses, stronger worker protection, less free trade, rules that stack the deck for organized labor, etc, etc. While such a policy arguably offers the promise of wealth redistribution from the upper classes to the middle class, it's not a prescription for growth. Worse, it runs the risk of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs!

A sensible middle course would work to increase the creative, entrepreneurial capacities of those left behind. A CNN story today highlights the challenge: 45% of Americans between 16 and 29 yrs old can't find work! And for the first time in history, credit card debt has been surpassed by student loan debt nationwide!

Consider that: the most educated group of young Americans in history, leveraged to the hilt in the process, and nearly half can't find work! Clearly, somewhere in the mix our education system is failing us!

If America is to tap the maximum potential of its citizens, it must find new ways to prepare its workforce to fill the jobs and create the businesses vital to prosperity in the 21st century. That can't be accomplished without a robust state (i.e. central government) taking the lead in new-economy policy, but simply feeding the current beast won't work either. Eventually, America's right and left wings will have to come with these realities.

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