The New York Times has had an epiphany. On the front page-- in the center, for all to see on November 17 – columnist David Leonhardt proposed the shocking theory that the country might be able to curb its budget deficit through growth.
That The Times considered this notion radical enough to warrant front-page status is confounding. After all, we have been in recession and confronting looming deficits for several years. Nearly every plausible approach to solving those problems has been put forward, including prodding a sticky recovery into higher gear through incentives to business. Though a pro-growth policy has eluded President Obama, many economists and columnists have pointed out that 1) jobs are created when demand increases and 2) only the private sector can create jobs.
The real question raised by this stunning volte-face is this: why are liberals so doggedly pessimistic about the United States? To take all the fun out of this game, I will provide the answer. Liberals do not believe – really believe – in the power of capitalism. They don’t applaud a system in which there are winners and losers. A system in which someone with a brilliant idea gets rich while most of us get by. A system that allocates resources with no overarching social agenda, and in which failure is an acceptable cost of society’s progress. In a Pew poll carried out last spring, 62% of Republicans said they viewed capitalism as positive; only 47% of Democrats were positive on our economic system – just slightly more than the 44% that embraced socialism.
Because progressives have little trust in our economic system, they are quick to spot impending doom. Since the media in the United States is overwhelmingly liberal, the alarums about our future carry great impact. Americans get discouraged and pessimistic, which can cost the country dearly. One of President Ronald Reagan greatest attributes was his ability to rouse the nation. The nation responded.
The current era is not the first in which wide-spread bleating about our prospects has left Americans disheartened. As Larry Summers recently pointed out in a speech, “The Harvard Business Review of 1990 proclaimed in nearly every issue that the Cold War was over and Germany and Japan had won.” Blogger Justin Fox, following up on that reminder, looked at some of those dire stories and found liberal Robert Reich and others decrying our loss of competitiveness – a theme that persists today. The anxieties about Japan ultimately buying up all of the United States (having started with Hawaii, and who wouldn’t for heaven’s sake) proved to be unfounded. The Japanese eventually came a cropper with their interwoven and stultifying corporate structures, their lack of innovation, their diminished population growth and their unwillingness to purge their banks of bad debts. The only shocker was that so few people saw it coming.
Today we are all convinced that China will overtake the U.S. They have brilliantly managed their growth to date – capitalizing, if you will, on capitalism. They are rapacious competitors, ruthless in determining what is in the country’s best interests and unmoved by the attendant environmental degradation or widespread corruption. It may eventually come to pass that our concerns about China were overblown, too. They have an aging population, an imminent real estate bubble of huge proportions, significant social unease and at the moment, a lot of youngsters graduating from college unable to find employment. Any country that browbeats other nations to boycott the Nobel Peace Prize awards has a few issues.
That is not to say that we do not face grave challenges. Voters exiting our recent elections made clear they are tired – above all else – of the bickering in Washington. Contrary to the intransigence of politicians on the left and the right, most Americans would be willing to make some sacrifices to see our country mend its torn infrastructure, rebuild our public schools, and create a more hospitable backdrop for businesses ready to grow and create jobs. We want our leaders to get these things done – not spend their time trying to outfox one another.
We do have the ability to overcome our budget deficits, our balance of payments issues and our very own aging workforce. The CEO of Genpact, an efficiency consultancy born out of GE, recently said “The fall of America is overstated. It still has the best companies. It still has the most innovation. It still has the flexibility in capital markets and in jobs.” Those comments should grace the front page of the New York Times as well.