News & Politics

It's Time to Get to Work Fixing Our Economic and Political Problems

We must all recognize the terrible consequences of not coming up with real solutions to the issues facing us.

In Monday’s New York Times, Paul Krugman paints an appraisal of the American economy over the last decade. Krugman attempts to coin a term to describe the 2000s as a time of no economic movement. He writes that from an economic point of view, he would "... suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true."

These odd times demand that we start to understand exactly where we are and what course of action is essential to make progress on the morass we find ourselves in. As we talk with people in our communities, we discover that most do not have a clue about what the future holds. I am also convinced that even the so-called experts do not either. That does not limit the speculation and the fingers pointing at everyone and every institution. Everybody is looking for the villains to blame for this mess. I am reminded of a maxim I copied down years ago: The chance of solving a problem declines, the closer one gets to finding out who was the cause of the problem.

As we look to find the answers for our ills, it is time that we stop shooting from the hip, stop simply looking for the people to blame, stop promising "hope.” The best way to solve problems is to ask questions. This is a time for all of us to really seek solutions by totally understanding how we got into this mess. This is not so that we can throw stones at those responsible in the proverbial public square, but so we can discover which of those factors are still present and preventing us from progress. It is time for every institution to reevaluate its practices in the most honest and open manner so that we do not let our bad history repeat itself.

To provide an example of honest inquiry, I can also look back, as Krugman has, to evaluate this decade and what went stale with our economy. We live in a very different world than we did 10 years ago. Companies throughout the world jumped on the Chinese bandwagon and gave them the tools to become the dominant economic force in today’s world. (When was the last time you picked up a product that did not say "Made in China"?) 

Now, I do not know if that is a bad thing, but I suspect that the future well-being of this country cannot be met if we no longer produce anything but ideas and consumers. What made our economy robust before was that we had great centers of commerce based on the manufacturing and efficient transportation of goods.  Over time, the means of transportation changed dramatically, and we were no longer limited to creating products locally. The means of production were handed to corporations that built factories in the cheapest locations in order to stock big box stores with low-price goods, thereby offering low wages to workers. Jobs disappeared in the United States into this new world economic order. We became an over-consuming, debt-ridden nation.

In order to move forward, it is time for us to stop looking to our political leaders for all the answers. We must encourage them to start being honest about what they know and don’t know.  We need to stop using legislative hearings for the purpose of scoring votes and appeasing campaign donors. We need to assess our leaders based on their ability to ask the right questions. We can then judge their competence based on the decisions they make; decisions guided by proper inquiry and well-thought-out solutions.

Many of us had such hope for the new administration that we were lulled into thinking that real change was possible within the structure of Washington politics. We fell prey to thinking new processes were in place to finally overcome the obstructionist system that gives the minority control over the majority’s future. Legislative manipulation trumps working for the common good. The end result is a stalemate caused by a voting bloc that is only concerned with the next election.

It is time for everyone at every level of government to look at the past and the present and make sure they understand the consequences if we do not come up with real solutions to the issues facing us. We also need something we lost long ago -- patience. Because we live in a 24-hour news cycle, we have grown to expect that all our problems can be fixed right away. We live in a world that often demands “next day air” when real change comes incrementally. The key is having a clear mission and understanding what direction we need to go in. Yes, compromise is essential, but selling out is not an option. We need to stand up to what we believe to be real facts and be honest with each other about what needs to be done to move us forward. We did not get into this mess overnight, nor will we have all the answers right away.

The public must be vigilant and informed so we can play our proper roles in making those in power accountable to us the people. We need to provide ways to reach the public in as honest and direct a way as possible without propaganda machines blurring the truth.

We need to ask the right questions and use our democratic institutions as they were intended.  It is time that we make sure those in power genuinely chart a future that honestly serves the people through meaningful solutions. Right now it feels like we’re all going down the same road in different directions. It’s time to stop, ask questions, weigh the options and move in a direction that serves the public’s interest. 

Douglas Kreeger is the former CEO of Air America Radio.