A recent article by a syndicated columnist, Gene Lyons, pointed out that neither Republicans nor Democrats were doing very much to create jobs or lay a lasting foundation for the future economic prosperity of America. The current hot issue in Congress centers around extending unemployment benefits. Democrats advocate a longer extension of benefits for the longtime unemployed, while the Republicans advocate cutting them off to incentivize those not working to redouble their efforts to find a productive slot in the American economy. Neither solution does very much for the long-term economic growth of our nation.
While I am certainly a fan of capitalism, I still subscribe to the thought of one of my old economic professors from college. ProfessorRobert Montgomery in his lecture entitled “Socialists’ Control of Industry” pointed out there are some needs of our society which cannot be met by the motivations of capitalism and investment alone. Some endeavors do not lend themselves to competition and are not well-motivated by profit alone for the social good. Several glaring examples of where government needs to step in and provide an orderly operation of things are transmission of the airwaves--radio and television, control of air travel and our air space, flood control and medical treatment. While some capitalistic purists believe private enterprise will eventually take care of our ever-increasing medical care costs, experience proves otherwise. America is the only developed countryin the world with no government program to control the cost of health caredelivery. As a result, our system places adequate healthcare out of reach for many of our citizens with serious health care needs.
Another example of the need for government participation in the best interest of our country and communities is right here in Southeast Texas. If our refining industry is to continue receiving its life blood of crude oil and other raw materials necessary for refining, then government involvement is absolutely imperative. Private industry would never be able to afford or be motivated to give us an adequate waterway leading from the Gulf of Mexico to Beaumont. A classic example of partisanship and lack of vision can be related to this phenomenon by viewing the fact that both of our United States Senators from Texas voted against the measure to give Southeast Texas a waterway which could accommodate supertankers of the future.
While not claiming to be a national economist, I do believe common sense suggests at least three things which would enhance our present economy and lay a good foundation for the future. First, increase the minimum wage in the United States to at least $10. I doubt seriously if doing so would injure the viability or profitability of mega-corporations such as Walmart, the major oil companies, or even Papa John’s pizza. All of these entities are reaping record profits in the millions, if not billions. It seems 2-3% less in their profits could mean a great deal to their employees should they increase their pay from $7.50 or $8.00 an hour to $10. I’ve had experience in a low-wage service job myself. My first hourly employment was as a dishwasher at a drive-in for $.35 an hour when I was 15. Like others stuck in such low-wage endeavors, I generally would spend every penny I made. At the very least, Henry Ford had it right. He had the vision to see that paying record wages to his Ford Motor Company employees would enable them to become better consumers and able to afford buying one of his Model-Ts. It is a fact: low wage earners by necessity spend everything they make. It takes little imagination to understand that a minimum wage increase would at thevery least help the sales of goods and services throughout our country.
The second thing I would do is have our country as well as states individually begin to make giant investments in our declining infrastructure. Thousands of bridges across the nation, for example, are in serious decline--some to the point of becoming a danger to transportation. Massive investments in roads, bridges, schools and even national parks would serve us well in the future and create jobs which are presently so needed. This should be done, even at the risk of borrowing more money at the state and federal levels. Money has never been so cheap, and the future benefits of economic stimulation would more than allow our states and federal government to make up for the deficit spending for future generations.
Third, and probably most important, throughout the country, both at the state and federal levels, a greater effort should be made to make education more easily accessible. There has been a trend in the last 20 years to privatize public education and make it more out of reach for the average, middle class American. Too many of our elected officials continue to believe gimmicks can solve our educational shortcomings, and such an attitude continues to be proven wrong time after time. Our nation willreap huge benefits for every investment we make in education--particularly investment geared to technology and trends of the future. To make this happen, however, we must make adequate investment and adjust our attitude to more highly revere those who choose the career of educating our fellow citizens.
Political partisanship and gridlock are not solving our present problems, nor do they provide visionary leadership for the future for our country.