Is the U.S. really broke?

With the failure of the congressional “super committee,” it is time for a conversation shift in our political discourse.

We keep hearing about how America is broke; that it cannot afford health insurance benefits for the elderly and poor, and social security for retires; that it cannot pay to rebuild its infrastructure, to invest in education and future generations, to encourage better wages and jobs, to innovate in new technologies – and the list goes on.

But is it an irrefutable fact that we are in fact broke and at our knees? I don’t think so. It seems to me we are merely lacking in imagination, not resources.

There are things we need to fix, of course. The housing market is a disaster. Unacceptably, people are still losing their homes when they don’t have to be. Too many people who should be working can’t find any jobs, let alone quality ones that pay enough for a decent middle class life. Wages have not kept up with the cost of middle class lives for decades now. And that has only gotten worse in the last few years.

College education is slipping out of reach for our next generation. And for those who get one, the burden of debt incurred is crushing. It is preventing them from being innovators and risk-takers, which we need for a vibrant competitive economy.

The federal government is borrowing too much money. While its budget deficits are not a problem, yet, they will be in another 10 to 20 years. Interest rates on government debt could rise in another few decades. If the cost of borrowing increases, it could set off a dangerous chain reaction that could threaten the very fabric of the American economy. Something similar is dangerously close to happening in Europe with the economies that use the euro common currency.

But that’s not happening now here in the U.S. It is simply something that could happen in the future. In fact, at the present moment, there is a lot going right in America.

Even with millions of Americans out of work, the vast majority of people still have jobs. They still work, earn a living, spend their earnings. The economy is damaged, but it is still humming along. We have trucks on the roads transporting goods. Corporations are still in business. Everyone is still paying taxes.

Young people are still going to school and learning important new skills. Despite what seems like every attempt to quash the inevitable, new energy technologies are taking hold and new businesses trying to gain a foothold in a Green Energy future.

The car industry in Detroit has recovered well from the brink of disaster. The government’s intervening there was an unquestionable success and saved millions of jobs.

Wall Street and banks have also been doing surprisingly well and making a lot of profit (although there are hints that some firms are now starting to lay people off again in what may be a sign of new trouble).

There is a lot of money being made in this country, a lot of productivity, a lot of tax revenue. We just don’t seem to know what to do with all of this wealth and resources. We seem paralyzed by fear, uncertainty, and the unknown.

But that’s not what this country is about. We are innovators, risk takers, creative thinkers, adapters. We are generous, kind, neighborly, thoughtful. We are fierce when righteous, reflective when chastened.

We are inspiring. And right now, we merely lack inspiration.

It is Thanksgiving. As a collective people, we need a moment of taking stock to figure out what we do have and what we can best do with it. This is a time when we are supposed to be doing just that on a personal scale. But it’s time we think bigger and outside our individual selves.

It is a shame that we have spent so much time and energy talking about what we cannot do. Why in the world should we be unable to fix our roads and bridges, ensure our elderly have medical care, provide affordable colleges for those who want to go, create a fair playing field through sensible regulations that allow our businesses to thrive in a transparent and legitimate free market?

We have done these things and more. There is no reason we cannot do them again.


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