Editor’s Note: We teamed up with Jim Stone, author of “Five Easy Theses” to test your knowledge of America’s economic challenges in “Are you an informed voter? A quiz.” Today, we have an adapted excerpt from Jim Stone’s new book, which was the inspiration for the quiz. We hope you enjoy it.
— Kristen Doerer, Making Sen$e Editor
This year will be remember as the year of the angry voter. People are angry because the real median income has barely budged for 40 years, while the costs of education, housing and health care have all risen sharply. And Americans, on the whole, are rightly upset with the inability of government to solve a host of obviously consequential problems. Some are genuinely hard to solve because they don’t have solutions that equitably resolve nasty trade-offs between winners and losers. But the paralysis today is worse than that. Our system can’t even seem to deal with eminently solvable problems.
My book is about five of these. It asserts that straightforward, logical answers to some issues are staring us in the face, yet there is no political path to their resolution. I hope you will declare this an unacceptable state of affairs. Worse still, the key issues are too seldom part of what passes for political debate these days. My title, “Five Easy Theses: Commonsense Solutions to America’s Greatest Economic Challenges,” I admit, is slightly facetious because Americans disagree about so many things, but I would wager that most of you share the concerns embodied in these five questions:
- Are you confident that Social Security and Medicare will be solvent enough to keep their promises when you and your children need them?
- Do you want to live in a society in which a tiny fraction of the public and few corporations hold a greater share of the wealth and influence than has ever been the case in America before? Can a society so tilted be as productive and stable, not to mention pleasant, as the America you grew up in?
- Must your health care cost almost twice as much as it costs your counterparts in every other advanced nation, while our health system delivers objectively worse results than most others?
- Why can’t the schools of this affluent and admired nation train students not headed to college for realistic careers and stop busting the budgets and burdening the futures of so many who do go on to university?
- Did we learn anything from the crash of 2008? How have we allowed our financial sector to accumulate even greater derivative positions than prior to the crash, to concentrate its assets in even fewer institutions than before and to take home a massive and unprecedented share of the economy’s profits?
As the problems grow larger, alas, it seems that our politics become smaller. Scanning this forbidding landscape, many of you may have concluded that our issues cannot be solved in ways that will provide genuine benefits to you and your families. But ours is still the country that most favors, at least in the private and academic sectors, intellectual challenge to the established ways of doing things. And from this spring innovation and creativity no other society can match. The public sector can tap into this energy and become a worthier partner for the rest of the country — if only it would adopt some specific, commonsense policies.
There are three ingredients of serious political progress. The first is clarity of vision. Next is political leadership, at an opportune moment for change, imbued with the unusual guts, charisma and communications talent to champion a bold change. An election to office is a chance to demonstrate leadership, in both philosophy and action, to advance the values you believe in. Clarity of vision and leadership are necessary, but not sufficient. The third ingredient of change is a countervailing force to set against the well-armed protectors of the status quo. Even in the best of times, the hand-to-hand political combat of reform has been an uphill battle. And these are not the best of times in that regard by a long shot. The recent tide has favored the already powerful.
If there were no other reason for concern, the multifaceted adverse impact on our democracy would be sufficient. One threat lies in outright destabilization, and another is in alienation from civic participation. Extreme unfairness has, in fact, undone governments in the past. Lesser, and less violent, forms of destabilization than revolution occur with much greater historical frequency. People can lose their faith in the major parties. Or they may turn to candidates with extravagant, heroic promises, the “men on horseback” who have heralded so much of history’s pain. The already disappointing rate of voter participation can fall still lower. Crime becomes more attractive to those who feel left out. Maybe most important of all, if future economic gains are not shared, the country can lose the unifying spirit, embodied in its social and political cohesion, that made it a great nation.
You have every right to be an angry voter this year, but it is not OK to be an ignorant or passive, angry voter. Public will expressed through political action is the only force that can overcome gridlock and vested interests. And knowledge is an essential tool to effective and constructive political action.
So how grounded is your anger? Test it with the facts.