Leader Blues

Friday, December 12, 2008

EDITORIAL >>National plan for recovery

It should go without saying, but somehow in the maelstrom of the unemployment rate, the subprime- mortgage meltdown and the government’s recent acquisition of the better part of the U.S. banking system and auto industry, it’s easy to lose sight of what makes a stable society, something we haven’t heard much about recently: When people are healthy and have a place to call home, they are better able to contribute to a flourishing society.

Ensuring the stability of our country by meeting people’s basic needs is the surest way to create a thriving and lasting system.

The healthcare industry, designed to meet the most fundamental of needs—that of sustaining life—continues to expand.

Education, housing and transportation have the potential to grow also because of their essential nature and the guarantee they will never lose a customer base.

These industries are inextricably linked; they are also mismanaged. What has happened to the United States? The people who once thought of ourselves as founders of freedom, of the country on the hill, as a beacon of hope for people in war-torn, politically corrupt or poverty-stricken countries, a refuge for “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” are now wondering if the house will be foreclosed on, if we will ever get out of debt (as a country and as individuals), if we can afford our medical bills, send our children to college and assure our children have quality educations before then.

As many Americans have struggled in the last 10 years to make ends meet, trade rules have been loosened to make it easier for big business to ship jobs overseas even as they are sheltered from taxes here at home. That equates to lost financing for education and other imperative social programs that assure a stable populace that can get good jobs and afford houses, pay medical bills and other fundamentals that sustain our economy.

We are now witnessing the result of the collapse of a foundation of a sustainable and profitable economy.

Congress must join with top economists, job-readiness and other social-service experts, education specialists and healthcare reformers who will work to improve industries that are now lacking but that have the largest customer bases of any others.

Any economic-stimulus project should include the vast innovation potential of the education and health care sectors, which have millions of jobs waiting to be filled. Innovation in health care and education will happen if incentives are given for intelligent people to enter these fields. President-elect Obama can start by giving people tax incentives to continue their educations. There are several more initiatives that could help the economy:

Put young people on career paths early and foster environments at schools so that students will be able to contribute to society when they graduate. Create grants for artists and writers similar to what were given during the Great Depression. Such support generates ideas, criticism and progress and helps the economy.

Implement public-works programs that include public art, community projects in housing and schools and medical research.

Concentrate not only on what’s lacking in our cities and towns, but what contributions can be made to the indelible fabric that is America. Create jobs in infrastructure and other areas that need improvement such as business retention, schools and transportation. Provide support for small business loans that immediately invest in communities.

Business stimulus is not enough. Work on providing women’s health, mental-health care and drug-abuse services to help stabilize neighborhoods is imperative. Improvements to our libraries will engage and inspire learning as would career support and college loans for adults. Support for green technology will reduce highway costs and help the environment.

The legacy of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the sweeping social-reform package brought about by the civil rights movement, has been blighted recently as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Smithsonian and public education, among many other institutions, have come under fire. Perhaps their legitimacy would not be questioned if their economic contributions were considered. Medicare and Medicaid are often the bulk of individual hospital financing. Without the National Endowment, there would be fewer museums and hardly any theater.

Yet it was not only the economy that inspired the Great Society. Johnson realized the disruption in American society that withholding support for medical care, arts, culture and education causes. He sought to temper an unhappy and disillusioned America, what he called “a soulless wealth,” when he envisioned the Great Society.

“The catalogue of ills is long: there is the decay of the centers and the despoiling of the suburbs. There is not enough housing for our people or transportation for our traffic. Open land is vanishing and old landmarks are violated,” Johnson said in 1964.

“Worst of all, expansion is eroding the precious and time-honored values of community with neighbors and communion with nature. The loss of these values breeds loneliness and boredom and indifference,” he said.

To read the speech in which he unveiled the largest social-reform package since the Great Deal, we cannot help reflect on how little has changed since then. Leaders in education, job creation and health care all need to be at the table during the construction of a new economy for America.