Can’t We Do This Right?
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: July 26, 2011
There is only one thing worse than Republicans and Democrats failing to agree to lift the debt ceiling, and that is lifting the debt ceiling without a well-thought-out plan and with hasty cuts totaling trillions of dollars over a decade. What business do you know — that is still in business — that would operate this way: making massive long-term cuts, negotiated by exhausted executives, without any strategic plan? It certainly wouldn’t be a business you’d expect to thrive. Maybe you can grow without a plan. But if you cut without a plan, you will almost surely hit an artery or a bone that could really debilitate you. That, I fear, is where we are heading.
Stop for a minute and ask: What would it look like if we were approaching this problem properly?
For starters, two years ago Congress and the Obama administration would have collaborated on a series of hearings under the heading: “What world are we living in?” They would have included a broad range of business, education and technology leaders testifying about what are the major trends and opportunities that are expected to shape the job market for the next decade. Surely, the hyperconnecting of the world, the intensification of globalization and outsourcing, the challenges of energy and climate and the growing automation of the work space that is rapidly increasing productivity with fewer workers all would have figured prominently.
Then we would have put together “The National Commission for 21st Century America,” with this assignment: Given these big trends, what will America need to thrive in this world and how should we adapt our unique formula for success?
Yes, we have developed such a formula over the course of American history, and it is built on five basic pillars: educating the work force up to and beyond whatever technology demands; building the world’s best infrastructure of ports, roads and telecommunications; attracting the world’s most dynamic and high-I.Q. immigrants to enrich our universities and start new businesses; putting together the best regulations to incentivize risk-taking while curbing recklessness (not always perfectly); and funding research to push out the boundaries of science and then let American innovators and venture capitalists pluck off the most promising new ideas for new business.
Only after we had done all that would we then sit down with a blank sheet of paper and say, “O.K., given our current fiscal predicament, where should we cut spending and where must we raise new tax revenues so that we can bring our government back to solvency and, at the same time, reinvigorate our formula for growth and success.”